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Education of American research astronomers, 1876-1941

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  • The education (particularly graduate education) of Americans who were active in astronomical research between 1876 and 1941 is assessed for its effectiveness in preparing the astronomers for careers in research. This period contains three dynamic changes: the growth of American astronomy in becoming the world's leading community of astronomers, the formation and flourishing of the American model of the graduate school, and the switch of emphasis of research from classical astronomy to astrophysics. Investigations are made of the roles of the astronomers' education in the growth and success of American astronomy and the progressive adoption of new fields of research--observational astrophysics, statistical astronomy, and theoretical astrophysics. Influences on astronomical education in the US are also assessed. The study used biographical information on the education and research careers of 509 scientists who published at least three papers of astronomical research. The data allowed the study of trends in the education of the astronomers. Brief case histories of astronomical education at the most important schools of astronomy, Berkeley-Lick, Chicago- Yerkes, Harvard, Michigan, and Princeton, complemented data of the astronomers. The study found that the loss of courses of elementary astronomy in high schools and colleges due to a report in 1893 had no discernible effect on the growth of the community of astrophysicists, yet contributed to the decline of classical astronomy. Also, the astronomers most responsible for the rise of astrophysics after 1900 were not educated in conventional graduate programs of classical astronomy. Lick Observatory, under W. W. Campbell, reset the prevalent direction of graduate training in the US from classical astronomy to observational astrophysics. Princeton's graduate program was the most effective in producing outstanding astronomers. Its graduates were the only students of the 1920s and 30s with strong backgrounds in physics. Virtually every field of astronomical research, except for observational astrophysics, was imported from Europe via advanced training of Americans in Europe or European astronomers immigrating to the US. The European immigrants included a high concentration of outstanding astronomers.
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