May 14, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 9
Back Issues
‘Our Students Lead Us’
Sullivan Award-winners
Part of the fabric of University life
Curiosity drives Mitman’s pursuits
‘Reverend Nurse:’
At 52, Valley minister feels call to care for the whole person, spiritually and physically
Leap of a lifetime:
Athlete Kim Turko jumps a formidable hurdle — life-threatening illness
He’ll be back:
Adult education graduate studies adult education
‘Hungry to Help:’
Student refugee wants to improve the lives of Burma’s forgotten children
Revitalizing Main Street:
Jill Nolt’s plan for her hometown high school makes front-page news
Peace Corps bound:
Business major trades fast lane for slow pace on Tonga
First in her family:
Angela Caldwell, a Native American, overcomes community attitudes to become lawyer
From Crane’s love of the cosmos comes new era for stargazers
A history of Finals
Sharlotte Bolyard is flying high
A ministry of medicine

Bombay bound:
Darden grad to apply best U.S. business practices to family company in India

Peer educator looks beyond educating:
Health advocacy is next step for Alyssa Lederer

No ‘cookie-cutter’ solutions:
Family expert Charmaine Yoest says creativity, flexibility are keys to resolving work/family issues

Reflections on the road to enlightenment:
Thirteen years, one class at a time, but who was counting?

‘Connecting communities:’
Presentation on African-American history at U.Va. gets students thinking, talking
From Crane’s love of the cosmos comes new era for stargazers
Jeff Crane
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Jeff Crane came to U.Va. to study the stars and leaves with a Ph.D. in instrument design.

By Fariss Samarrai

During Jeff Crane’s seven years as an astronomy graduate student at U.Va., he has been up all night many nights operating a console that looks like it could steer the space shuttle. It does aim and operate a sizable telescope.

“Telescope time is precious,” he said recently as he stood at U.Va.’s Fan Mountain Observatory, staring off into space, so to speak.
Crane is in love with the cosmos.

“It’s great up here at night,” he said. “I usually work by myself, absorbed in my observations of the dark and clear sky full of stars.”
He drinks a lot of coffee “to stay coherent.”

But while Crane always knew he wanted to study the stars, he didn’t know when he came to U.Va. that his career path would veer to a merging of science and technology. As he has studied the structure of the Milky Way, he has also learned to design some of the instruments that are used to observe the far reaches of the universe.

Crane is the astronomy department’s first Ph.D. graduate in its new instrument design program. These days, astronomy students are building spectrographs and infrared cameras that are giving new sight to old optical telescopes.

“When I came here, there was no real program for instrument design, but a real need to make the Fan Mountain Observatory a more viable research facility,” Crane said.

The new program is led by astronomy professor Mike Skrutskie, a leading instrumentalist who came to U.Va. in 2001. The program is attracting high-quality students and contributing directly to the development of hardware for new and existing telescopes at U.Va. and elsewhere.

While working on his dissertation, Crane has also spent the past four years building and installing a spectrograph at the Fan Mountain Observatory in southern Albemarle County. A spectrograph breaks white light into its component colors, allowing astronomers to view wavelengths and thereby determine the distances and sizes of stars.
This new instrument enhances and broadens the capabilities of the Fan Mountain 40-inch telescope.

“This is part of a big effort to get the observatory into a research-ready state,” Crane said.

By adding the spectrograph, and a forthcoming infrared camera, the Fan Mountain Observatory is becoming a more valuable research facility, despite the relatively small size of its optical telescopes.

Crane’s dissertation involves refining a method for measuring the nearby mass of the Milky Way. It’s a problem he could spend his life trying to solve. His adviser is astronomer Steve Majewski, a leading galaxy researcher who recently earned a great deal of media coverage for his discovery of our Milky Way’s cannibalization of the smaller Sagittarius Galaxy.

After graduation, Crane, an Arizona native, is headed to Pasadena, Calif., where he will build a new spectrograph to be used for planetary searches by the Carnegie Observatories. But like many U.Va. students, he hopes to someday return to Charlottesville.

“I like the trees here, the University, the astronomy department,” he said. “I’d like to find my way back.”


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