Martin Otto Harwit

Martin Otto Harwit


Date of Birth
March 9, 1931

Martin Harwit was born in Prague and received his first year and a half of schooling in German and Czech. When he was eight his father, a noted biochemist, became a professor in Istanbul, so most of the boy's schooling was in English and Turkish. At fifteen he immigrated to the United States and studied one year at the Bronx High School of Science before going to Oberlin College for his B.A. in physics. After earning a master’s degree at the University of Michigan and serving in the U.S. Army, he entered M.I.T., where he earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1960. He did postdoctoral research on theoretical astrophysics problems with Fred Hoyle at the University of Cambridge, and then began a long career at Cornell University. In 1963 he began working with Aerobee rockets to do infrared astronomy from space, visiting for a year with Herbert Friedman’s group at the Naval Research Laboratory. Back at Cornell he built a number of rockets with liquid nitrogen and helium-cooled infrared detectors. He then went into airborne infrared astronomy, working on NASA’s Learjet and Kuiper flying observatories. He and his coworkers pioneered infrared spectroscopy and made both near and far-infrared observations of everything from the night sky background through planets, stars and galaxies. Long interested in history and philosophy of science, Harwit wrote a book propounding the view that new discoveries in science are primarily the result of new instrumentation. He was one of the original planners of NASA’s Great Observatories program, which led to the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. In 1987 he became director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. His directorship ended in 1995 as a result of intense controversy over a planned exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bomb. Since then he has returned to infrared astronomy as a professor emeritus at Cornell based in Washington, D.C. In recent years he has worked on the Infrared Space Observatory, the Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite, and the Herschel Space Observatory. A former head of the Cornell Astronomy Department, he is also the author of an influential astrophysics textbook, Astrophysical Concepts.

Personal Web Page

At Cornell University

Presentation of Bruce medal

See the ASP website. [Cornell press release]

Biographical materials

Brief biography with papers at Cornell University Library
Ehrenstein, David, “The Dream Job that Became a Nightmare: Martin Harwit and the Enola Gay Exhibit,” Oberlin College Alumni Magazine, Fall 1997.


In the lab, 1977, courtesy of Dr. Harwit
American Institute of Physics (several)
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2007
Accepting the Bruce medal, 2007

Named after him

Minor Planet #12143 Harwit


Papers, etc.

Papers from 1957-87 are at the Cornell University Library. Harwit’s papers as director of the National Air and Space Museum are at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. There is a 1983 oral history interview at the AIP Center for History of Physics. This is a continuation of a 1983 joint interview of Harwit and Henry Kondracki.

Other References: Historical

Correll, John T., “The Revelations of Martin Harwit,” Air Force Magazine 79 (12), 38-39 (1996) [a hostile review of Harwit's book, An Exhibit Denied].

Gallagher, Edward J., The Enola Gay Controversy"

Harwit, Martin, An Exhibit Denied: Lobbying the History of Enola Gay (Springer-Verlag, NY, 1996).

Harwit, Martin, “Instrumentation and Astrophysics: How did we get to be so Lucky?” in van Breugel, W. &J. Bland-Hawthorn, eds., Imaging the Universe in Three Dimensions: Astrophysics with Advanced Multi-Wavelength Imaging Devices (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, 2000), pp. 3-10.

Harwit, Martin, “The Early Days of Infrared Space Astronomy,” in J.A. Bleeker, J. Geiss, & M. Huber, eds., The Century of Space Science ( Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2002), pp. 301-30 (excerpt).

Harwit, Martin, “The Growth of Astrophysical Understanding,” Physics Today 56, (11) 38-43 (2003).

Hermans-Killam, Linda, Infrared Processing And Analysis Center, Caltech, Infrared Astronomy Timeline

Klein, Julia M., “Tremors from the Enola Gay Controversy: An Argument for the Postmodern Museum”

Linenthal, Edward T. & Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (Holt, NY, 1996; Owl Books, 1996).

Low, Frank J., G.H. Rieke, & R.D. Gehrz, “The Beginning of Modern Infrared Astronomy—1960 to 1983,” Ann. Rev. Astr. & Astrophys. 45, 43-75 (2007).

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Other References: Scientific

Block, Myron J. & Martin Harwit, “Free Surface of Liquids as an Optical Element,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 48, 480 (1958).

Harwit, Martin, “Measurement of Thermal Fluctuations in Radiation, ” Phys. Rev. 120, 1551-56 (1960).

Harwit, Martin, “Can Gravitational Forces Alone Account for Galaxy Formation in a Steady-State Universe?” MNRAS 122, 47-50 (1961).

Harwit, Martin, “Can Gravitational Forces Alone Account for Galaxy Formation in a Steady-State Universe? II. Bondi-Gold universes” MNRAS 123, 257-63 (1961).

Hoyle, Fred & Martin Harwit, “Plasma Dynamics in Comets I. Plasma Instability,” Ap.J. 135, 867-74 (1962).

Harwit, Martin & Fred Hoyle, “Plasma Dynamics in Comets II. Influence of Magnetic Fields,” Ap.J. 135, 875-82 (1962).

Hoyle, Fred & Martin Harwit, “On the Fate of Intergalactic Bridges,” PASP 74, 202-09 (1962).

Harwit, Martin, “Dust, Radiation Pressure, and Star Formation,” Ap.J. 136, 832-43 (1962).

Gould, Robert J. & Martin Harwit, “Expected Near Infrared Radiation from Interstellar Molecular Hydrogen,” Ap.J. 137, 694-97 (1963).

Harwit, M., “Origins of the Zodiacal Dust Cloud,” J. Geophys. Res. 68, 2171-80 (1963).

Harwit, M., “Origins of the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. II.,” Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 119, 68-71 (1965).

Harwit, Martin, D.P. McNutt, K. Shivanandan, K., & B.J. Zajac, “Results of the First Infrared Astronomical Rocket Flight,” A.J. 71, 1026-29 (1966).

Werner, M., T. Gold, & M. Harwit, “On the detection of water on the moon,” Planetary and Space Science 15, 771-74 (1967).

Davidson, Kris & Martin Harwit, “Infrared and Radio Appearance of Cocoon Stars,” Ap.J. 148, 443-48 (1967).

Harwit, Martin, The Cloud of Interplanetary Boulders. NASA NASA-SP-150 (NASA, Washington, DC, 1967).

Condon, J.J. & M. Harwit, “Means of Measuring the Earth’s Velocity Through the 3°K Radiation Field,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 20, 1309 (1968).

Harwit, Martin, D.P. McNutt, K. Shivanandan, & B.J. Zajac, “Infrared Rocket Observations,” in Brancazio, Peter J. & A.G.W. Cameron, eds., Infrared Astronomy (Gordon & Breach, NY, 1968), pp. 91ff.

Houck, J.R. & Martin Harwit, “Far-Infrared Observations of the Night Sky,” Science 164, 1271-73 (1969).

Harwit, M., K. Fuhrmann, & M. Werner, “Near Infrared Night Sky Background,” Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A 264, 273-78 (1969).

Harwit, Martin, “Is Magnetic Alignment of Interstellar Dust Really Necessary?” Nature 226, 61-62 (1970).

Harwit, M.O., P.G. Phillips, T. Fine & N.J.A. Sloane, “Doubly multiplexed dispersive spectrometers,” Appl. Opt. 9, 1149-54 (1970).

Houck, J.R., B.T. Soifer, Judith L. Pipher, & Martin Harwit, “ Rocket-Infrared Four-Color Photometry of the Galaxy’s Central Regions,” Ap.J. 169, L31-L34 (1971).

Harwit, Martin, Astrophysical Concepts (Wiley, NY, 1973; Springer, NY, 1988, 1998, 2006).

Ward, Dennis B. & Martin Harwit, “Observations of the Orion nebula at 100 μm,” Nature 252, 27 (1974).

Harwit, Martin, “The Number of Class A Phenomena Characterizing the Universe,” QJRAS 16, 378-409 (1975).

Harwit, Martin & Franco Pacini, “Infrared Galaxies—Evolutionary Stages of Massive Star Formation,” Ap.J. 200, L127-L129 (1975).

Sloane, Neale J.A. & Martin Harwit, “Masks for Hadamard Transform Optics, and Weighing Designs," Appl. Opt. 15, 107-14 (1976).

Swift, R.D., R.B. Wattson, R. Paganetti, J.A. Decker, Jr., & M. Harwit, “Hadamard transform imager and imaging spectrometer,” Applied Optics 15, 1595-1609 (1976).

Ward, D.B., G.E. Gull, & M. Harwit, “Far-infrared spectral observations of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter,” Icarus 30, 295-300 (1977).

Ward, D.B., G.E. Gull, & M. Harwit, “Far-infrared spectrometry of H II regions and the Galactic Center,” Ap.J. 214, L63-L65 (1977).

Harwit, Martin & Neil J. A. Sloane, Hadamard Transform Optics (Academic Press, NY, 1979).

Biermann, P. & M. Harwit, “On the Origin of the Grain-Size Spectrum of Interstellar Dust,” Ap.J. 241, L105-L107 (1980).

Harwit, Martin & Valerie Neal, The Great Observatories for Space Astrophysics (NASA Astrophysics Division, 1985).

Harwit, Martin, James R. Houck, & Gordon J. Stacey, “Is IRAS Cirrus Cloud Emission Largely Fine-structure Radiation?” Nature 319, 646-47 (1986).

Harwit, Martin & Roger Hildebrand, “How Many More Discoveries in the Universe?” Nature 320, 724-26 (1986) [abstract].

Kessler, Martin F. & Martin Harwit, “Science with the Infrared Space Observatory,” Proc. SPIE 2019, 2-8 (1993).

Harwit, Martin and the staff of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Treasures of the National Air and Space Museum (Abbeville Press, NY, 1995).

Mather, John C., et al, “The Submillimeter Frontier: A Space Science Imperative, ” eprint arXiv:astro-ph/9812454 (1998).

Harwit, M., “The Prospects of Large Surveys in Astronomy,” in McLean, Brian J., Daniel A. Golombek, Jeffrey J. E. Hayes, & Harry E. Payne, eds., New Horizons from Multi-Wavelength Sky Surveys, Proceedings of the 179th Symposium of the International Astronomical Union, held in Baltimore, USA August 26-30, 1996 (Kluwer, 1998), pp. 3-10.

Harwit, Martin, “Reflections on the Prelude to SIRTF,” in Bicay, Michael D., Roc M. Cutri, & Barry F. Madore, eds., Astrophysics with Infrared Surveys: A Prelude to SIRTF, ASP Conference Series, Vol. 177 (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, 1999), pp. 443-50.

Harwit, Martin & Michael G. Hauser, eds., The Extragalactic Infrared Background and its Cosmological Implications: IAU Symposium 204: proceedings of the 24th General Assembly of the IAU held at Manchester, United Kingdom, 15-18 August 2000 (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, 2001).

Des Marais, David J., Martin Harwit, Kenneth Jucks, James Kasting, Douglas Lin, Jonathan Lunine, Jean Schneider, Sara Seager, Wesley Traub and Neville Woolf, “Remote Sensing of Planetary Properties and Biosignatures on Extrasolar Terrestrial Planets,” Astrobiology 2, 2, 153-81 (2002).

Bland-Hawthorn, Joss, Alex Harwit, & Martin Harwit, “Laser Telemetry from Space,” Science 297, 523 (2002).

Lyon, Richard G., Dan Y. Gezari, Gary J. Melnick, Peter Nisenson, Costa Papaliolios, Steve Ridgway, Edward Friedman, Martin Harwit and Paul Graf, “Extra-Solar Planetary Imager (ESPI) for Space Based Jovian Planetary Detection,” in A. B. Schultz and R. G. Lyon eds, High-Contrast Imaging for Exo-Planet Detection, Proceedings of the SPIE 4860, 45 (2003).

Leisawitz, David, et al, “A SPECS Update: Engineering and Technology Requirements for a Space-Based Far-ir Imaging Interferometer,” SPIE2004SPIE.5491..212L (2004).

Harwit, Martin, “The Herschel Mission,” Proceedings of the COSPAR 2002 meetings in Houston Texas, Paul Wesselius editor, also in Advances in Space Research 34, 568-72 (2004).

Harwit, Martin, David Leisawitz, & Stephen Rinehart, “A far-infrared/submillimeter kilometer-baseline interferometer in space,” New Astronomy Reviews 50, 228-34 (2006).

Leisawitz, David, et al, “The Space Infrared Interferometric Telescope (SPIRIT): Mission Study Results,” SPIE.6265E.120L (2006).

Bensch, Frank, et al, “Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite observations of Comet 9P/Tempel 1 and Deep Impact,” Icarus 184, 602-10 (2006).

Elias, Nicholas M., II, Martin Harwit, David Leisawitz, & Stephen A. Rinehart, “The Mathematics of Double-Fourier Interferometers,” Ap.J. 657, 1178-1200 (2007).

Leisawitz, David, et al, “The Space Infrared Interferometric Telescope (SPIRIT): High-resolution Imaging and Spectroscopy in the Far-infrared,” Advances in Space Research 40, 689-703 (2007).

Harwit, M., “The Legacy for Herschel from ISO and Spitzer,” EAS Publications Series 34, 65-74 (2009).

Swinyard, Bruce, et al., “The Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics: SPICA A Joint Mission between JAXA and ESA,” Experimental Astronomy 23 (1), 193-219 (2009).

Harwit, Martin, “The Growth of Astrophysical Understanding,” Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 5, 22-32 (2009).

Griffin, M.J., et al., “The Herschel-SPIRE Instrument and its In-flight Performance,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 518 id L3 (2010).

Eales, S.A., et al., “First Results from HerMES on the Evolution of the Submillimetre Luminosity Function,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 518 id L23 (2010).

Roseboom, I.G., et al., “The Herschel Multi-Tiered Extragalactic Survey: Source Extraction and Cross-identifications in Confusion-dominated SPIRE Images,” MNRAS 409, 48-65 (2010).

Oliver, S.J., et al., “The Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey: HerMES,” MNRAS 424, 1614-35 (2012).

Magnelli, B., et al., “The Deepest Herschel-PACS Far-infrared Survey: Number Counts and Infrared Luminosity Functions from Combined PEP/GOODS-H Observations,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 553 id A132 (2013).

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Other Works: History, Popularizations, Textbooks, etc.

Harwit, Martin, “Physicists and Astronomy—Will You Join the Dance?” Physics Today 34, 11, 172-87 (1981).

Harwit, Martin, Cosmic Discovery: The Search, Scope, and Heritage of Astronomy (Basic Books, NY, 1981; MIT Press, 1984).

Harwit, Martin, “Academic Freedom in ‘The Last Act’,” Journal of American History 82, 1064-84 (1996).

Harwit, Martin, “New Adventures in Infrared Astronomy,” lecture to the Victoria Museum, Australia, 1999.

Harwit, Martin, “Conceiving and Marketing NASA’s Great Observatories,” Experimental Astronomy 26 (1-3), 163-77 (2009).

Harwit, Martin, In Search of the True Universe: The Tools, Shaping, and Cost of Cosmological Thought (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).