Hanscom Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Banquet



6:00 PM, Sunday Evening, 16 October 2005, Radisson Hotel, Chelmsford


Research Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Harvard University

Senior Astronomer Emeritus, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

As astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus lay on his deathbed in 1543, his fellow clerics brought him a long-awaited package: the final printed pages of the book he had worked on for many years, De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). Although Copernicus did not live to hear of its extraordinary impact, his book, which first suggested that the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of the universe, is recognized as one of the most influential scientific works of all time.

Four and a half centuries after its initial publication, Owen Gingerich embarked on an epic quest to see in person all existing copies of the first and second editions. He was inspired by a seeming contradiction between (1) Arthur Koestler's claim, in The Sleepwalkers, that nobody had read Copernicus's famous book and (2) Gingerich's discovery of a first edition richly annotated in the margins by the leading teacher of astronomy in Europe in the 1540s. If one copy had been so quickly appreciated, Gingerich reasoned, perhaps others were as well - and perhaps they could throw new light on a hinge point in the history of astronomy.

After three decades of investigation, and after traveling hundreds of thousands of miles across the globe - from Melbourne to Moscow, Boston to Beijing - Gingerich will describe his book built on experience and insights gleaned from examining some 600 copies of De revolutionibus. He found the books owned and annotated by Galileo, Kepler, and many other lesser-known astronomers, whom he brings back to life. He illuminated the long, reluctant process of accepting the Sun-centered cosmos and highlights the historic tensions between scientists and the Catholic Church. He traced the ownership of individual copies through the hands of saints, heretics, scalawags, and bibliomaniacs. He was called as the expert witness in the theft of one copy and attended the auction of another nearly a million dollars. Gingerich has proved conclusively that De Revolutionibus was as inspirational as it was revolutionary.

Prof. Gingerich will be available to autograph copies of his book (same title as above.) You might wish to purchase a copy before the banquet. He will also have copies available on Oct 16th.



Professor Gingerich's research interests have ranged from the recomputation of an ancient Babylonian mathematical table to the interpretation of stellar spectra. He is co-author of two successive standard models for the solar atmosphere, the first to take into account rocket and satellite observations of the sun; the second of these papers has received over 500 literature citations.

In the past three decades Professor Gingerich has become a leading authority on the 17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler and on Nicholas Copernicus. In recognition of these studies he was awarded the Polish government's Order of Merit in 1981, and more recently an asteroid has been named in his honor.

Professor Gingerich has been vice president of the American Philosophical Society (America's oldest scientific academy) and he has served as chairman of the US National Committee of the International Astronomical Union. He has been a councilor of the American Astronomical Society, and he helped organize its Historical Astronomy Division. In 2000 he won the Divisionís Doggett Prize for his contributions to the history of astronomy. The AAS awarded him their Education Prize for 2004.

For some years he served as consultant to the eminent designer Charles Eames, and he was an advisor for "Cosmic Voyage," an Imax film at the National Air and Space Museum. He has given the George Darwin Lecture (the most prestigious lecture of the Royal Astronomical Society).

Besides nearly 600 technical or educational articles and reviews, Professor Gingerich has written more popularly on astronomy in several encyclopedias and journals. At Harvard he taught "The Astronomical Perspective," a core science course for non-scientists, which at the time of his retirement in 2000 was "the longest-running course under the same management" at Harvard. In 1984 he won the Harvard- Radcliffe Phi Beta Kappa prize for excellence in teaching. http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/faculty/gingerich/index.html