Joel Stebbins (1878-1966) was instructor of astronomy (1903-04); assistant professor of astronomy (1904-13); professor of astronomy (1913-22); director of the observatory (1913-22); and head of the Department of Astronomy (1921-22) at the University of Illinois (UI). He was a foremost astronomer in his field, renowned for his pioneering work in developing astronomical photoelectric photometry.
Stebbins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 30, 1878. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in 1899. As a graduate student, he studied astronomy at the Washburn Observatory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UWM), before receiving a fellowship to study at the University of California's Lick Observatory. In 1903, he became only the third in his UC program to be awarded a PhD in astronomy. Stebbins joined the UI astronomy faculty the same year (1903). During his tenure at UI, he expanded the school's astronomy curriculum, and, in 1921, he became the founding head of the astronomy department, formerly a division of the department of mathematics. Stebbins made significant advances in the empirical measurement of starlight using electricity, including developing a selenium cell photometer with physicist F. C. Brown (1907) and developing and installing a photoemissive photocell with physicist Jakob Kunz (1915). His achievements at UI were honored by the American Academy of Arts and Science Rumford Prize (1913) and the United States National Academy of Sciences Henry Draper Medal (1915).
Stebbins went on to hold the directorship at the Washburn Observatory at UWM (1922-48). Following his retirement from UWM in 1948, he accepted a research position at the University of California's Lick Observatory where he continued to work for the rest of his life. Over the course of his career, Stebbins's range of photometric studies included analyses of O-type and B-type main-sequence stars, globular clusters, cosmic dust, and the Cepheids. His publications include On the Radiation of the Companion of Algol (1911) and Photoelectric Photometry of Stars (1928). He was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal in 1950.
Stebbins died on March 16, 1966, in Palo Alto, California.
Kron, Gerald E. "Obituary: Joel Stebbins, 1878â??1966," The Astronomical Society of the Pacific 78, no. 162 (June 1, 1966): 214â??222. Accessed online April 23, 2020, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1086/128333/pdf.
"A History of Astronomy at Illinois," Department of Astronomy (UIUC), accessed April 23, 2020, https://astro.illinois.edu/newsroom/history-astronomy-illinois.
"Joel Stebbins," Illinois Distributed Museum, accessed April 23, 2020, https://distributedmuseum.illinois.edu/exhibit/joel_stebbins/.
Wikipedia, s.v. "Joel Stebbins," accessed April 23, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Stebbins.