AAS 201st Meeting, January, 2003
Session 37. HAD III: Biography of 19th and 20th Century Astronomers
Oral, Monday, January 6, 2003, 2:00-3:30pm, 613-614

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[37.05] UCLA Astronomer Frederick Charles Leonard (1896-1960): From Childhood Prodigy to Mature Obsession

R. S. Clarke (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA), H. Plotkin (University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada)

The precocious 13-year-old Frederick Leonard burst onto the astronomical scene in 1909, when he audaciously attended the 10th anniversary meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) at Yerkes Observatory. He was soon contributing frequent notes to ``Popular Astronomy" on double stars and a variety of other topics, and in 1911 founded the amateur Society for Practical Astronomy. Although he presided over its rapid growth, edited its ``Monthly Register," and dominated its administrrative structure with youthful mastery, the Society peaked early and faded into oblivion by 1917. Astronomers like F.R. Moulton and E.C. Pickering recognized his talents and provided encouragement, but he was denied membership to the AAS due to his youth. As well, his lack of rigor in observations, verbose editorializing, and hunger for the limelight gave his elders pause.

After two degrees from Chicago, he moved in 1919 to the University of California, Berkeley, completing a solid Berkeley/Lick PhD in December, 1921, with a dissertation on the spectra of visual double stars. He moved within weeks to the Southern Branch of the University (later UCLA), where he introduced an undergraduate astronomy program which successfully attracted many first-rate students (Fred Whipple being perhaps the most illustrious). Although he continued various research projects at Mt. Wilson and later Lick, they were purely observational, with little interpretive analysis.

Perhaps sensing that the science of astronomy was beginning to pass him by, Leonard's career path veered suddenly to meteoritics by 1930. He and meteorite collector-dealer Harvey H. Nininger founded the Society for Research on Meteorites in 1933 (later, the Meteoritical Society), and Leonard became its first president and edited its journal over the next 25 years. The Meteoritical Society provided the perfect vehicle for Leonard's adolescent preoccupation with scientific society administration and journal editing to blossom into an adult near obsession.

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