I grew up in Paramus, New Jersey, just eight miles from the lights of Manhattan, not the best location for an aspiring astronomer. I saw the REAL night sky — the Milky Way! — for the first time when I was around twelve, during a family vacation to Colorado, and again a few years later when I was a student assistant at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. My early astronomical observing was carried out in my family’s driveway with a 4.25-inch Edmund reflector telescope, which I bought for $84 in saved-up coins. It was here that I shared the wonders of the night sky with our neighbors and developed what became a lifelong passion for teaching and writing about science.
I received my undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Princeton University in 1973 and my Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale University in 1978. I’m now Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. I also serve as Chair of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society.
I’ve written five books: Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, which chronicles the human stories involved in the centuries-long quest to measure the first distance to a star; The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, a biography of the 19th century pioneer of electricity and magnetism; Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes; the Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual, a collection of do-it-yourself exercises that traces the development of astronomers’ conception of the universe; and Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe. I’ve also written articles and opinion pieces for a variety of magazines and newspapers, as well as science book reviews for the Wall Street Journal, and I have lectured at venues nationwide about science history and discovery. My article "The Greatest Show on Earth," in the August 12, 2017 Wall Street Journal, received the 2018 Popular Writing Award of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society, which cited it as "the best popular science article written by a scientist about the Sun in any online or print media in North America."
I recently completed an online version of my Intro Astronomy course at UMass Dartmouth, plus the second edition of my Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual. I am currently working on a similar manual of classroom activities devoted to the Sun, the stars, and the search for extraterrestrial life.