The Bruce Medalists


Aitken Photo 1923, courtesy Mary Lea Shane Archives, Lick Observatory
Robert Grant Aitken
31 December 1864 1926 Bruce Medalist 29 October 1951

A native Californian, Robert Aitken was educated at Williams College in Massachusetts. After teaching briefly in California, he worked at the Lick Observatory from 1895 to 1935. He was associate director seven years (while director W. Wallace Campbell was president of the University of California) and director from 1930 to 1935. Aitken made systematic surveys of binary stars, discovering thousands, measuring their positions visually, and calculating orbits for many. His massive New General Catalogue of Double Stars within 120 degrees of the North Pole allowed orbit determinations which increased astronomers' knowledge of stellar masses. He also measured positions of comets and planetary satellites and computed orbits. He was editor of the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP) from 1898 to 1942. He wrote an important book on binary stars, and he lectured and wrote widely for the public.

Presentation of Bruce medal
Benfield, Bernard, PASP 38, 2-14 (1926).

Other awards
French Academy of Sciences, Lalande gold medal, 1906.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1932, presented by H. Knox-Shaw, MNRAS 92, 354-60 (1932).

Some offices held
American Astronomical Society, President, 1937-40.
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, President, 1898, 1915.

Biographical materials
Lang, Harry G., and Bonnie Meath-Lang. Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, a Biographical Dictionary, (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1995), pp.1-3.
Lang, Harry G., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 21-22.
Plicht, Chris, Aitken, Robert Grant
Tenn, Joseph S., “Robert G. Aitken, the Twenty-First Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 22, 6, 20 (1993).
van den Bos, Willem H., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 32, 1-30 (pdf).
Hoskin, Michael A., Dictionary of Scientific Biography 1, 87-88.

Jeffers, Hamilton M., “Robert Grant Aitken, 1864-1951,” PASP 64, 5-10 (1952).
Jeffers, H., R. Trumpler, & W. Wright, In Memoriam, University of California, 1957.
Jonckheere, R., Journal des Observateurs 35, p.25-26 (1952) [in French].
Merrill, Paul W., Griffith Observer 16, 3, 26-28 (March 1952).
Stebbins, Joel, Year Book of the American Philosophical Society, 1951.
Van den Bos, W.H., MNRAS 112, 271-73 (1952).
More obituaries

AIP Center for History of Physics
Aitken Family, photo (old age) and drawing (younger)

Named after him
Lunar crater Aitkenthe largest impact crater known
Minor Planet #3070 Aitken

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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