STEFAN W. MOCHNACKI

About Me


Early Life:

Childhood: I was born in England of Polish parents, and we emigrated to New Zealand in 1952. I attended Catholic and State primary schools, and was a founding pupil at Francis Douglas Memorial (De La Salle) College in New Plymouth, 1959-1965, graduating as Dux of the College. I was a leading cross-country runner and an Officer Cadet in the Army Cadet Corps. At home, I rode horses and built and flew model gliders.

Student:

From 1966 until 1969 I was a physics B.Sc. (Hons.) student at the University of Canterbury, and in 1971 I completed an M.Sc. (with Distinction), my thesis being:  " The W Ursae Majoris Stars: Interpretation of Light Curves and Line Profiles”, supervised by Noel A. Doughty. This was published and distributed with a grant from the Tomlinson Bequest of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. The fact that I was so isolated from the rest of the world meant that I was forced to correspond with most of the leading workers in the field, which was a definite advantage!

In 1971 I spent two months as a summer student at Kitt Peak National Observatory and presented my M.Sc. results at IAU Colloquium 16 in Philadelphia. From September 1971 until Sept. 1977 I was a Ph.D. student in the Dept. of Geophysics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia. I was involved in campus life very actively, but managed to complete my thesis Area Photometry with a Multi‑Diode Array”, building and using a 50x50 RETICON camera (this was just before CCDs became available), under the supervision of Gordon Walker. I was greatly helped by engineers Vern Buchholz and Barclay Isherwood,  who later went on to significant careers beyond UBC, and by the fertile combination of geophysicists and astronomers in one cozy building (which no longer exists). In particular, I wrote much Assembler mini-computer hardware control software and FORTRAN mainframe reduction code.

Post-Doctoral Fellow:

I spent three years (1977-1980) as a post-doctoral fellow, working with J.B.Oke, and collaborating with, in particular, H. Zirin and R. Schommer. I here followed up on my M.Sc. work, developing further aspects which I had not published earlier, and was heavily involved in using  Shectman's photon-counting spectrometer on the 100-inch atop Mt. Wilson and Oke's 32-channel spectrometer on the 200-inch on Palomar Mountain. I wrote a lot of code in FORTH on a DEC LSI-11, including a telescope control program which was used on the 200-inch for some time after I left.

In 1980-81, I was a Research Fellow at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, where I ported Pritchet's RETICENT spectroscopic reductions and analysis code to VAX/VMS and developed a lot of new routines. This I later ported to MS-DOS and used, together with students, for over ten years after moving to Toronto.

Professor:

In September 1981, I began an appointment as Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. My most important course was  AST322, later AST423, "Stars and Galaxies", following on from S. van den Bergh and B. Madore. Many of my students in this course have gone on to significant careers in astronomy, and also in other fields.  However, most of my time until the end of the century was spent at the David Dunlap Observatory, where I was PI in the construction of a photon counting spectrometer, and was involved in numerous instrumental improvements for the 74-inch telescope.

My most significant students were Bernard Bois, who analysed Lanning's and my observations of V471 Tau, and Paul Hendry, who exploited the DDO facilities for simultaneous photometry and spectroscopy of W UMa stars, developing maximum entropy codes to find system parameters and spot distributions. In the late 1990's, with Mike Gladders, I involved undergraduates in observing on the 74-inch telescope, most  significantly in a survey of over 50 X-ray bright M dwarfs. The discovery of very rapidly rotating M dwarfs in the field was rather unexpected, with follow-up observations being analysed now.

In 2001-2, I spent 15 months on a sabbatical at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, working with Steve Shectman on the construction of  MIKE, the Magellan Inamori Kyocera Echelle spectrograph. In particular, I worked on the design and construction of its electrical subsystems. I also was instrumental in helping start the Las Campanas supernova programme. During this time, I obtained the CCD imaging observations on the first Magellan telescope which allowed us to discover the first contact binary in the Magellanic Clouds.

Since 2003, I have been involved with the BRITE Constellation project since its first conception. This has become a three-nation effort, with a total of six little satellites being launched (Canada, Austria, Poland).

I am Canadian Instrument Scientist for BRITE Constellation, involved in the development, design and testing of the CCD Development of nanosatellites for high-precision photometry from space.