Astronomer Yervant Terzian honored with room dedication

“Great scientist, teacher, leader and friend,” reads the plaque on the newly named Terzian Conference Room on the sixth floor of the Spaces Sciences Building, unveiled in a ceremony on Aug. 31. The Friends of Astronomy named the room in honor of Yervant Terzian, Tisch Distinguished Professor Emeritus, “in recognition of his many years of leadership, scholarship and citizenship to Cornell.”

Dedication speakers described Terzian’s extensive role in building the Department of Astronomy in his 20 years as chair, literally and figuratively. Elizabeth Bilson, retired administrative director of the astronomy department, noted that it was thanks to Terzian’s tireless efforts that there was even a conference room to dedicate, as originally the Space Sciences Building had only four stories. 

Ira Wasserman, Kenneth A. Wallace Professor of Astronomy, recalled how small the department was when Terzian began as chair in 1979. “It’s still true that probably about 2/3 of our faculty were hired by Yervant, which is a tremendous achievement,” he said. 

Terzian “is an astronomer’s best friend, because advancing knowledge by advancing careers is second nature for him,” said Friends of Astronomy member Chuck Mund, Jr. ’81. “The eminent humanity of his support for scientists and science gives us all cause to celebrate.” 

Added Jonathan Lunine, “He was always thinking of new and creative ways to make astronomy better at Cornell and also to make astronomy better as a national and international endeavor.”  Lunine is the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science.

Astronomy chair Terry Herter, Chuck Mund and Robert Cowie uncovering plaque
From left: Terry Herter, chair and professor of astronomy; Chuck Mund, Jr. ’81; and Robert Cowie MBA '57, BME '56, unveiling the plaque. Photo Credit: Patrick Shanahan, University Photography


Said Friends of Astronomy member Robert Cowie MBA '57, BME '56: “Thank you, Yervant, from the bottom of our collective star struck hearts, for the contributions to the field of astronomy which you’ve made and for your service to the astronomy department and to Cornell. And thank you most importantly for teaching thousands and thousands of young people at Cornell and elsewhere, and for teaching so many adults with patience, understanding and affection…But above all, thank you for the wonderful gift of your friendship over more years than we wish to count.” 

As Terzian was unable to be present at the dedication, he sent a video message that was played at the event, thanking the Friends of Astronomy – a group he founded about 25 years ago – and noting its great success. “I’m proud you want to learn more about the universe,” he said.

Terzian has received many honors, including NASA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Republic of Armenia’s Gold Medal, its “highest honor for scientific achievement.” At Cornell, he has been recognized for the excellence of his teaching with the Clark Distinguished Teaching Award in 1984 and the Steven Weiss Presidential Fellowship Award in 2001. In 1999 Cornell University established an endowment for “The Yervant Terzian Undergraduate Scholarships” and in 2009 established an endowment for “The Yervant Terzian Annual Lectureship in Astronomy,” both with the generous support of the Friends of Astronomy.

Terzian was director of NASA's New York Space Grant Consortium and founded the New York State Pew Cluster of Colleges and Universities. He is known for his studies of stellar evolution and the discovery of regions of hydrogen gas between distant galaxies -- a finding that indicated the presence of unseen matter in intergalactic space. He is the author or co-author of more than 235 scientific publications and the editor of seven books, including “Carl Sagan’s Universe.

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