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Session 27 - History and Teaching of Astronomy.
Oral session, Monday, June 10
Old Madison,

[27.02] George C. Comstock: Wisconsin Astronomer, Observatory Director, Graduate School Dean, and AAS Officer

D. E. Osterbrock (UCO/Lick Obs)

George C. Comstock, the third director of Washburn Observatory, had a long and interesting career at Wisconsin. Born in Madison, he did his undergraduate work at Michigan under James Watson. From him Comstock learned the classical astronomy of stellar positions and celestial mechanics. He had one year of graduate work at Michigan before going to Madison as Watson's assistant in 1880, and remained after the latter's death as E.S. Holden's assistant. At Wisconsin, Comstock also studied law at the UW Law School in his ``spare time", to have an alternate career path. He was admitted to the bar in 1883 but never practiced. From 1885-7 he was on the Ohio State faculty with a summer working at Lick Observatory; then in 1887 became associate director back at Washburn Observatory. Two years later he succeeded to the full directorship, and kept the post until he retired in 1922 at the age of 67.

All Comstock's research was in positional astronomy, and he considered his most important work to be the measurement of stellar aberration and atmospheric refraction. He also measured double stars with the 15-inch Washburn refractor. His main duty at UW was teaching, mostly ``practical astronomy" for civil engineering students. Comstock wrote several text books on astronomy, surveying, and least squares. He was the first head of the UW Graduate School, set up by President Charles R. Van Hise in 1904. Comstock was a highly effective administrator, and did much to build up research at UW. His own most successful students were Sidney D. Townley, Joel Stebbins, and Sebastian Albrecht.

Because of his legal training, Comstock was involved as an officer in many scientific societies. He was one of the organizers of the AAS, its first secretary, and later its vice president, then president. He retired in 1922, and was succeeded by Stebbins, whom he helped to bring back to Madison from Illinois. After his retirement, Comstock lived in Beloit until his death in 1934.

Program listing for Monday