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In Memoriam

John Hawley (1958 - 2021)

John Hawley UVA

John Hawley, an international award-winning University of Virginia astrophysicist and the senior associate dean for academic affairs for the University’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, died of cancer on December 12, 2021 at his home in Earlysville. He was 63. He was a member of the department for 34 years. Hawley will be remembered by his colleagues as a brilliant computational astrophysicist who also lent his stature to influential leadership positions within the College as a department chair and associate dean. He came to UVA in 1987 from the California Institute of Technology. Seven years after his arrival on Grounds, Hawley won the Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society, which is awarded to an astronomer under the age of 36 for a significant contribution during the five years preceding the award.

His research focused on the physics of gas accretion. While accretion is ubiquitous in the universe, the physical mechanism that drives it was not well understood. Working with Balbus in the 1990s, however, Hawley identified a powerful instability in magnetized gases that drives the turbulent flow, allowing a detailed understanding of the accretion process. Today, the “magnetorotational instability” is applied to study a wide variety of celestial objects, UVA astronomy chair Phil Arras said, from accretion disks around black holes to the disks from which stars and planets form.

He was an avid cat-lover, which prompted a successful fundraiser benefitting the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. In his memory, the department raised over $1,200. 

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Mercedes Richards (1955 - 2016)

Mercedes RichardsMercedes Tharam Richards, 60, of State College, passed away at Hershey, Pennsylvania on February 3, 2016. Richards’s research focused on computational astrophysics, stellar astrophysics, and exoplanets and brown dwarfs. She was most known for her research in the tomography of binary star systems, where her work was considered pioneering in the field. She was elected as an officer for many astronomical organizations, including as president of Commission 42 of the International Astronomical Union, as a councilor of the American Astronomical Society, and as a member of the Board of Advisers of the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy.

She joined the faculty at UVA in 1987. She was appointed as assistant professor of astronomy in 1987, promoted to associate professor in 1993, and to professor of astronomy in 1999. In addition, she was a visiting scientist during the 2000-2001 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In 2002, she joined the faculty of Penn State as a professor of astronomy and astrophysics.


Robert "Bob" Rood (1942 - 2011)

Bob Rood

Bob Rood, professor emeritus of astronomy in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, died Nov. 2 after suffering a stroke while at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. He had been en route to Italy to collaborate with colleagues. After studying at North Carolina State University, he earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969 and conducted postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology. He also collaborated with colleagues worldwide, particularly in Bologna, Italy, Green Bank, W.Va., and Bonn, Germany. He started his career as a stellar structure and evolution theorist, later focusing on observational studies of star clusters and interstellar gas in the Milky Way.

Bob was an integral and active part of the University of Virginia community. Since 1973, he enjoyed his work as a professor in University of Virginia's astronomy department, serving as department chair from 1999 until 2006. He taught a popular course called "Life Beyond Earth" and co-authored a book on extraterrestrial life. Bob's research spanned both theoretical studies of how stars evolve over time and observational studies of star clusters and interstellar gas in the Milky Way, as well as studying the abundances of elements cooked up during the Big Bang fireball that created our universe.

Bob was an avid photographer, and captured hundreds of images of UVA Astronomy faces during his 38 years in the department. In his honor, the Department's Graduate Research Symposium is now known as the Bob Rood Symposium. This is a day-long event featuring current graduate student research talks and a reception at McCormick Observatory.