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Prof. Arthur F. Davidsen

Prof. Arthur F. Davidsen
(Photo circa 1985)

Arthur F. Davidsen was a professor of physics and astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University and a member of the principal professional staff of the university's Applied Physics Laboratory. His primary research interests include high energy astrophysics and cosmology - especially the study of galaxies, quasars, and the intergalactic medium through ultraviolet spectroscopy with space-borne telescopes.

Professor Davidsen was educated at Princeton University (A.B. 1966) and the University of California, Berkeley (M.A. 1972, Ph.D. 1975). He was commissioned in the US Navy in 1968 and served as electronics officer and navigator aboard the WW II-vintage destroyer USS Samuel B. Roberts (DD-823), and later as scientific liaison officer at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC. After completing his graduate studies at Berkeley in 1975, he joined the Johns Hopkins faculty as an assistant professor. In 1980 he was promoted to Professor of Physics.

From 1979 to 1981 Davidsen led the Johns Hopkins effort to establish the Space Telescope Science Institute on its Homewood Campus in Baltimore. He subsequently served from 1982 to 1990 on the Space Telescope Institute Council of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the institute under a NASA contract, and until 1992 on the AURA Board of Directors. To promote the further development of astrophysics at Johns Hopkins Davidsen also formed the Center for Astrophysical Sciences in 1985 and served as its first director. Following the launch of Hubble in 1990, he served for two years as the first chairman of the Space Telescope Users Committee. In 1991 he was elected to a five year term on the university's Academic Council, which oversees all appointments and promotions in the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Professor Davidsen served as Interim Dean of the Faculty of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins in 1997.

Davidsen was internationally known for his leadership in developing several space-borne instruments for ultraviolet spectroscopy, and for their application to the study of a variety of astronomical topics. In 1977, using a unique new remote-controlled, rocket-borne telescope and spectrometer launched from the White Sands Missile Range, he obtained the first ultraviolet spectrum of an object beyond our Galaxy - the quasar 3C273. HUT was part of the Astro-1 Observatory, a package of telescopes that flew on space shuttle Columbia during its December 1990 flight (STS-35), and again on the Astro-2 mission on space shuttle Endeavour during its March 1995 flight (STS-67).

As Principal Investigator of the NASA-funded Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope (HUT) project, Davidsen directed the design, development, and operation of a major instrument for astronomical observations aboard the space shuttle, beginningwith the inception of the project in 1979 and continuing to 1996. HUT was carried into orbit on two highly successful shuttle missions, Astro-1 (STS-35) on space shuttle Columbia in December 1990, and the Astro-2 mission on space shuttle Endeavour during its March 1995 flight (STS-67). Among many other scientific contributions, Professor Davidsen and his group used HUT to help establish the existence of a tenuous, primordial intergalactic medium composed of hydrogen and helium which accounts for most of the ordinary matter in the universe.

During the 1980's Davidsen also directed the design and development of the optics for the Faint Object Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope, an instrument used by hundreds of astronomers to conduct a wide range of important studies, including his own team's discovery in 1995 of evidence for the existence of a massive black hole in the center of the galaxy M87.

Professor Davidsen was the recipient of several awards, including the prestigious Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1979 and a Johns Hopkins University Presidential Citation in 1991. An Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow from 1976 to 1980, Davidsen was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1984, chairman of its Astronomy Section in 1989, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1996. He authored or co-authored more than one hundred scientific articles and lectured at many of the nation's top research universities and institutes. He served on or chaired numerous advisory committees for NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, the Office of Naval Research, and others. He also organized the 20th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, which brought 2500 scientists to Baltimore in 1988.

Dr. Davidsen died unexpectedly on July 19, 2001, at the age of 57, from a severe lung disorder. His brilliant career was cut short, but is accomplishments will live on. He is very much missed by his colleagues.