From/de Marilyne Lavoie, Media Relations Officer, NRC
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2016)
Dr. James (Jim) Hesser, an internationally known astronomer and accomplished NRC manager, is the recipient of the 2015 W.G. Schneider Medal. Dr. Hesser exemplifies the criteria set for the award, which recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to NRC “above and beyond” the expectations of their job duties and who exemplify NRC values.
Dr. Hesser’s career is marked by decades of scientific leadership and public service in global astronomy and astrophysics. After receiving his PhD from Princeton and starting his astronomy career in Chile, Jim joined NRC as a research officer (RO) in 1977. His leadership skills were soon recognized and in 1986 he was appointed Director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) in Victoria, BC.
Throughout this 36-year tenure at NRC Dr. Hesser oversaw scientific and technology development work that helped Canada advance its global presence in world astronomy. His service in high offices of all major North American professional societies in his field, as well as on the boards of preeminent international observatories, has strengthened the network of global collaborations that characterize NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics (NRC Herzberg) programs today.
Jim’s impact has also been profound on NRC and on the broad Canadian astronomy community. Dr. Hesser’s research on the chemical evolution of the early universe through the study of star clusters was ground-breaking and helped attract top talent to NRC for many years. His mentoring helped many prominent astronomers develop their professional careers. Through his long-time involvement in the Victoria chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) and the volunteer-based Scientists and Innovators in the Schools, Jim has done much to bring astronomy to the public at large, culminating with his work as Canadian Chair of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.
Jim retired as DAO Director – the longest serving in the observatory’s history – in 2014, but his service continues. As Strategic Advisor to the General Manager for NRC Herzberg, he continues to mentor students and researchers while strengthening important stakeholder relationships. This relationship building has contributed to the establishment of the not-for-profit “Friends of the DAO Society” dedicated to supporting science outreach activities at the purpose- built visitor centre playfully named the Centre of the Universe (CU). CU is located adjacent to the NRC observatory’s historic Plaskett telescope.
As NRC celebrates its Centennial year just ahead of the Centennial of that pioneering telescope named after DAO’s founding Director John Stanley Plaskett, it is certainly fitting that an astronomer of Jim Hesser’s calibre is the recipient of the Schneider Medal. “John Plaskett put Canada’s observatory on the map,” notes NRC Herzberg GM Greg Fahlman. “Jim’s legacy is helping keep it there.”