Talk: Robert Williams "Probing the Distant Universe with Hubble Space Telescope"

Dr. Robert Williams
October 22, 2018
8:00 pm

Dr. Robert Williams, former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, discusses his work on the Hubble Space Telescope at this public talk.

When in 1993 Dr. Robert “Bob” Williams became the new director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the organization that runs the science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA, the astronauts had just fixed the manufacturing mistake that was making the orbiting observatory’s vision blurry and restored its capabilities to their full potential.

The new director realized that a facility so powerful could maximize its scientific return only if its unique data were made available to the whole world community immediately after acquisition, a dramatic paradigm shift in the way astronomical observatories had been operated until then. In a bold move, in December 1995 Dr. Williams used his “Director Discretionary Time”, the fraction of a telescope’s observing time that the director can use for special projects, for an unprecedented experiment: stare on the same spot on the sky for ten consecutive days to image the faintest and most distant astronomical sources ever unveiled by humans: the Hubble Deep Field was born. He made the images available to anyone who had the curiosity to look and study them and the findings turned out to be nothing short of transformative.

Since then, Treasury/Legacy Projects, as NASA calls these open projects nowadays, have yielded among the most successful and far reaching investigations of the cosmos ever made using public facilities.


About Robert Williams

Robert Williams is currently Astronomer Emeritus at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, and Distinguished Osterbrock Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. From 1993-98 he served as Director of the Institute, which with Goddard Space Flight Center operates Hubble Space Telescope for NASA and ESA. Before assuming his present positions Williams spent 8 years in Chile as Director of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, the national observatory of the U.S. in the southern hemisphere. Prior to that time he was Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona in Tucson for 18 years.

Dr. Williams' research specialties include novae, nebulae, and emission-line spectroscopy and analysis.

Williams received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin in 1965. He was Senior Fulbright Professor at University College London from 1972-73, and received the Alexander von Humboldt Award from the German government in 1991. In 1998 he was awarded the Beatrice Tinsley Prize of the American Astronomical Society for his leadership of the Hubble Deep Field project, which revealed in remarkable detail the evolution of galaxies in the early universe. For this project he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 1999. Dr. Williams is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and is a PastPresident of the International Astronomical Union. In 2016 he was awarded the Karl Schwarzschild Medal for career achievement in astrophysics by the German Astronomische Gesellschaft. He is a strong advocate for science education and has lectured around the world on astronomical discoveries and the importance of science in modern life.

He resides in Baltimore with his wife Elaine, a pediatric psychologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of autism disorders, and they are co-founders of a non-profit organization in Baltimore that places adults with autism in the workplace.