Speakers Profile - Fred Watson

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Fred Watson comes from a long line of Freds, but seems to have been the first in the family to become an astronomer. He was born and raised on the outskirts of Bradford in Yorkshire, northern England. He went to school at Belle Vue Grammar School for Boys in Bradford, where he became hooked on astronomy.

Education: Fred went to university in Scotland, beginning an academic career that was distinguished only by its longevity. He studied mathematics and physics at the University of St Andrews and later did a master's degree in astronomy there. Later still, in 1987, he gained his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. The other thing Fred learned at university was how to look as if you can sing and play the guitar, and for many year he frequented the folk clubs of Scotland and northern England. This trick still comes in handy on ABC radio and at occasions such as Science in the Pub and Coonabarabran's Festival of the Stars.

Work: Fred's first job was as an optical physicist with the telescope building firm of Sir Howard Grubb Parsons & Co. Ltd., of Newcastle upon Tyne, now sadly no longer in existence. He also worked at the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux and Cambridge (in the 1970s and 1990s) and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (in the 1970s and 80s). These jobs took him to telescopes in Hawaii and the Canary Islands, as well as to a new life in Australia during the early 1980s. Here, Fred helped to pioneer the use of fibre optics in astronomy at the start of a new era of statistical studies of stars and galaxies. He was responsible for an instrument called FLAIR on the UK Schmidt Telescope, ancestor of the present 6dF system.

In 1995, Fred became Astronomer-in-Charge of the Anglo-Australian Observatory at Coonabarabran, which is his present job. His astronomical work today centres around large-scale star and galaxy surveys, and the development of novel instrumentation to carry them out. He is also interested in dark-sky preservation, global virtual observatories and astronomy education.

Academic affiliations: Fred is an honorary Associate Professor of Astronomy in the University of Southern Queensland and an adjunct Professor in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences in the Queensland University of Technology.

Personal: Fred shares a hillside property in the foothills of the Warrumbungle Mountains near Coonabarabran with his wife Trish and their two young sons, James and William. His daughters, Helen and Anna, live with their respective other halves (Liam and Brett) in Scotland.

Fred's interests outside his family centre on music and writing. These activities came together in a unique manner in Star Chant, the choral fourth symphony of Australian composer Ross Edwards, for which Fred wrote the text. This multi-media work also uses celestial images by David Malin, and was premiered at the Adelaide Festival in March 2002. Fred also contributed text to a new Edwards choral piece, Mountain Chant, which was premiered by the Melbourne Chorale in June 2003. At the other end of the musical scale, Fred's silly science songs are the subject of a sampler CD recorded early in 2003.

When time permits, Fred also carries out research into the history of scientific instruments. He is the author of Binoculars, Opera Glasses and Field Glasses published by Shire Books, and was a contributor to the award-winning historical encylopedia Instruments of Science. His book on the history of the telescope is published by Allen & Unwin.