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Karen and Zolt Levay Retire

Christine Pulliam (pulliam[at]stsci.edu)

On August 30, 2018, the Institute bid a special joint farewell to two long-time staff, spouses Karen and Zoltan (Zolt) Levay. The celebration of their careers included speeches and video tributes by current STScI colleagues, who were joined by family, friends, former coworkers, as well as the Levays’ collaborators at AURA and NASA. In all, about 200 attended to honor and thank Zolt and Karen for the significant work they did for over 30 years to further the Institute’s mission.

Zolt and Karen

Zolt Levay

Zolt Levay originally joined STScI as a contractor for Computer Sciences Corporation in 1983, developing software to translate Hubble data into images for analysis. In 1993, he joined the staff of the news office within what would become STScI’s Office of Public Outreach, working with astronomers to prepare their Hubble data for press release images.

Zolt merged his diverse skills in data processing and photography with a master’s degree in astronomy to build the visual Hubble legacy in the public consciousness. His work has resulted in some of Hubble’s—and astronomy’s—most iconic images, including the “Bubble Nebula" (NGC 7635), the Carina Nebula mosaic, and the return to the Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation” in 2015. Zolt’s efforts raised the production values for astronomical imaging from professional observatories. 

Occasionally Zolt’s work gave astronomers new insights into their research data—so much so that he was invited to be a co-author on the papers, including the paper presenting the legendary Hubble Deep Field.

Zolt plans to continue to pursue photography in retirement, in particular dark sky photography, for which he recently was awarded a residency by the National Park Service.

Karen Levay

Karen Levay joined STScI in 1997 after many years with the International Ultraviolet Explorer mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. As the Archive Science Branch Head, she was fundamental to establishing the infrastructure to transition from the Hubble data archive to a multi-mission astronomy archive called the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). These efforts resulted in establishing STScI as a major center of archival research for the worldwide astronomy community.

During the time Karen was part of the archive, it grew from a few gigabytes to around 3 petabytes of data. The archive started to methodically solicit and archive highly processed data products created by astronomers for their science that could also be useful for others in the astronomy community. Karen was integral to getting this initiative started and continuing it through many of the past 15 years. These data are considered highly valued products today.

In retirement, Karen plans to pursue her needlework and quilting hobbies and genealogy interests.