Heard, John Frederick

From Senior College Encyclopedia
Jump to navigationJump to search



John Frederick (“Jack”) Heard (1907-1976) was a long-serving faculty member in Astronomy, Head of the Department and Director of the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) from 1952 to 1965. He was born in St. Thomas, Ontario, and educated at the University of Western Ontario (BA 1919) and McGill University (MA 1930, PhD 1932, both in Physics). He held a scholarship at the University of London, UK, receiving a second PhD (in Astrophysics) in 1934, and at Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago. He joined the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy in 1935, when the DDO opened, starting as Demonstrator, then Lecturer, Assistant Professor (1945), Associate Professor (1949), Professor (1952), Chant Professor (1965), and Professor Emeritus (1976). During WWII, he carried out important work in navigation, both development and instruction, rising to the rank of Wing Commander.

His research was in the spectroscopic observation of stars, a field in which he excelled, and a field for which the DDO was well-suited, given its instrumentation (some of which Jack designed), and its less-than-perfect weather. He took major responsibility for the DDO 1.88m telescope and its instrumentation; in 1935, that telescope was the second-largest in the world. His research papers dealt with the radial (line-of-sight) velocities of stars determined by the Doppler effect, with the orbits of binary stars determined by this same technique, and with various stars with peculiarities in their spectra: ones pulsating, shedding mass, or showing unusual chemical composition. His publications include dozens of research papers, and numerous reviews, reports, and notes.

Jack was highly respected for his diligence, wisdom, and diplomacy, and provided outstanding service to both his local community and to the astronomical community, especially the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, in which he served as President (1953-54), Treasurer (1961-65 and 1967-69) and Honorary President (1970-71) and member of several committees, notably the Property Committee. He served for 30 years on the Council of the Toronto Centre, including as President (1947-48) and Honorary President (1957-68). He was very active in the International Astronomical Union, the world organization of professional astronomers, through which he worked to maximize the uniformity and standardization of radial velocity measurements. He attended several IAU General Assemblies, collaborated with researchers in countries including Czechoslovakia, France, and the UK, and hosted visiting astronomers from several other countries. His honours included election as Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1958, the Centennial Medal in 1967, and honorary doctorates from the University of Western Ontario (1971) and the University of Waterloo (1972).

Jack was a diligent and effective teacher, research supervisor, and mentor, a gentleman with a wry sense of humour, and with a special talent for story-telling and writing. He established and edited his department's newsletter David Dunlap Doings in 1968, and the Canadian Astronomical Society's newsletter Cassiopeia in 1973, always including a lively, exquisitely-crafted editorial, usually about some notable astronomical person, place, or event. After his death, a collection of these editorials was published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, under the title “People and Places”. For Jack, the human side of astronomy was as interesting and important as the scientific side.


Fernie, J.D. Editor (1979), “People and Places: Collected Reminiscenses of John Frederick Heard”, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 79, 53-73, 109-132, 177-197.

Hogg, H.S. (1977), “John Frederick Heard (1907-1976), Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 71, 1-8.