When Doreen Spitzer learned that her son was going to visit the science center named after her late husband, Dr. Lyman Spitzer, Jr., she asked for two things: a Spitzer Space Telescope calendar and a comprehensive report of the visit.
As the first Spitzer to visit the Spitzer Science Center (SSC), Dr. Nicholas C. Spitzer didn't take these requests lightly. Equipped with a pencil and index cards, he collected every factoid thrown at him and asked detailed technical questions about the telescope's cryogenic cooling system and information downlink.
"I was interested in the Space Infrared Telescope Facility from the beginning and have been impressed by the accomplishments of the telescope that I've learned about from the website; I'm glad to be able to ask specific questions and send my mother a complete report," says Spitzer. "She and my sisters will be thrilled to learn about the successes of the mission."
Unlike his father the astrophysicist, this Dr. Spitzer is a neurobiologist. He was invited to participate in a weeklong visiting professorship program at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and give a campus-wide lecture on his research. While he was on campus, Spitzer took advantage of this opportunity to visit the SSC, to meet the staff "and to compliment them on the extraordinary work they are doing."
"There is great dedication to the mission and a palpably high energy level. Everyone is keenly aware of the instrument lifetime and has been innovative in devising efficiencies that minimize lost time," he said.
During his visit, Spitzer also gave a brief talk to the science center staff about some of his biological research.
"One mark of an intellectually lively environment is the extent to which people absorb and become involved with disciplines outside their own. From the detailed questions I received it's clear that the SSC is an exciting and vibrant place," said Spitzer. "My father would have appreciated that."
Spitzer describes his father as a quiet and modest man, who was excited by the idea of discovering new phenomena not yet imagined. "He was a visionary scientist, who predicted that space astronomy would 'modify profoundly our concepts of space and time.'"
"He would be deeply satisfied to see the instrument bearing his name doing just that," he adds.
Spitzer's three-hour visit to the SSC on January 24, 2006 included a comprehensive tour, where he met with staff members from across the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center. He was also given presentations on the mission's groundbreaking work and public outreach.
"Everyone did a great job at answering my questions, but throughout the day I kept thinking of more. I'm already looking forward to my next visit," said Spitzer, who is a professor at the University of California, San Diego.
"We all knew and admired the great scientist that Lyman Spitzer was, and we honor him every time we mention the observatory. Nick's visit was a wonderful reminder of the human dimension, and of the intertwined threads of science and family," said IPAC Director / SSC Deputy Director, Dr. George Helou. "I hope there'll more opportunities to connect with that dimension and share with the Spitzer family our excitement about the observatory that proudly carries their name."