• Echo Staff

Astrophysicist Alumnus Kicks Off Olivet Lecture Series


Bill Blair '75, left, and Mike Fales '75, right. Courtesy Image.


An astrophysicist helped launch of the Hosford Lecture Series, a new program spotlighting prominent alumni. The Sept. 15 program was literally out of this world.

William Blair, Class of 1975, spoke about his pride and joy, the James Webb Space Telescope, which, after about two decades of planning and building, is set to launch at December’s end.

“The James Webb Space Telescope is a worthy success to Hubble,” Blair said, speaking to about 30 people during the lecture. But, unlike the Hubble, launched into low space orbit in 1990, the Webb will leave Earth’s orbit, travel about 1.5 million miles, and measure the universe in the infrared versus Hubble’s primarily ultraviolet wavelength spectrum.

How does a Comet end up working on a NASA project of this scope?

Blair said he “had a lot of luck along the way.”

That luck started 50 years ago, as Blair, who went on to earn his doctorate degree in astronomy from the University of Michigan (U of M), began as a freshman at Olivet College, along with soon to be life-long friend Michael Fales, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and religion. Fales helped to create and develop the Hosford Series this year, according to Provost Maria Davis.

Blair said he appreciated his liberal arts degree, even though it meant he was a little behind the physics majors at the U of M. Blair graduated with a double major in physics and mathematics at Olivet, and met his soon to be wife Jean here, too.

Blair credits Olivet with helping him develop communication, organization and teamwork skills, which, he said, many of his fellow scientists did not learn in their science-based education.

His career has taken him across the country and around the world, working with top scientists at NASA and space and science agencies across the globe. His work continues at the Johns Hopkins University, where the Webb telescope will be tracked on its journey.

He has been in charge of developing literature, tools and proposal support materials for this mission.

Blair’s 45-minute presentation featured a slide show with stunning photos from Hubble. He said images from the James Webb Space Telescope, which features a larger mirror than Hubble, and a tennis-court sized sunshade for cooling, will focus on the universe, in larger time and space than any other telescope up to now.

Blair will be looking to the skies Dec. 18, the scheduled launch date for the James Webb, something he has been doing since he discovered the observatory on the roof of the Mott Building a half a century ago.