NATHER, R. Edward
On August 13, 2014, R. Edward Nather passed away peacefully after a long illness. He is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Marilane Nather and their 3 children, Wendy Nather, David Nather and Lara Nather; his children Kathy Nather Thomas and Kelley Thompson from a prior marriage; 9 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brother, Frederick Nather. Ed was born in Helena, Montana to Frederick Bucklin Nather and Florence K. Skillman. He graduated high school early so he could join the Navy, and he served during World War II in Palawan Island, the Philippines and Guam as an Aviation Electronic Technician's Mate. After the war, at age 20, he obtained his undergraduate degree in English from Whitman College. He wrote for Astounding Science Fiction under the pen name Kelley Edwards. He then commenced his lifelong practice of following his interests and then getting paid for them. After teaching himself programming, he wrote one of the first Fortran compilers for small computers. After teaching himself physics, he worked as a nuclear physicist for Hanford Atomic Works in central Washington and at government research laboratories such as General Atomic in southern California and Sharp Laboratories (later Beckman Instruments). In 1968, following his interest in electronics, he commenced work as an electronics engineer at the University of Texas at Austin, where he designed the computer controls for McDonald Observatory's 107-inch reflector telescope. By the end of the decade, his work had improved the use of high-speed photometry through its use of a 400-channel electronic pulse-height analyzer. In 1969, he used this method (now an industry standard) to confirm the detection of the optical pulsar in the Crab Nebula. In 1972, UT Austin informed Ed that they really needed him to get a graduate degree in the things he was doing and researching, so at age 45, he moved his family to Cape Town, South Africa, where he got a Ph.D. in Astronomy. He moved back to Austin and for the next 30+ years, he taught courses such as Astronomy In Science Fiction and Astronomy Bizarre. In the late 1980s, his students applauded him when he returned to teaching soon after surgery for a subdural hematoma with a visible scar on his head. Ed's claim to fame started out as his answer to a student's inquiry about how to choose his research projects: "Find unique stars and study them." Ed founded The Whole Earth Telescope [WET], a global network of telescopes controlled through the internet, allowing astronomers to observe unique stars continuously on consecutive days. This practice allows astronomers to determine the age of the universe by calculating the age of white dwarfs - Ed's favorite unique star. Ed was recognized for his contributions to the field of astronomy. In 1980, he was awarded the Boyden Premium from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia for his experimental analysis of optical pulsar emissions. He was given the Rex G. Baker, Jr. and McDonald Observatory Centennial Research Professor in Astronomy. In 1996, at age 70, he was given the Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award for innovation in astronomy. He was a member of the International Astronomical Union. He achieved internet fame by posting "The Story of Mel, A Real Programmer," a classic tale among computer experts that captures the magic of a bygone programming era. He will be missed for his innovative thinking, his integrity and his love.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Aug. 24 to Aug. 25, 2014.