Donald N.B. Hall

United States



Donald Norman Blake Hall was born on June 26, 1944, in Sydney, Australia. After graduating from the University of Sydney he was admitted to Harvard University, where he studied with Leo Goldberg and received his Ph.D. in astrophysics. Thereafter, he worked as a solar astronomer at Kitt Peak observatory. The highlight of this period was participating in a study of the solar eclipse across Africa in 1973, when he was part of a scientific team that chased the eclipse in a modified Concorde aircraft.

In 1981, Donald N.B. Hall was recruited to the position of deputy director of the newly created Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. While there, he worked closely with Riccardo Giacconi, helping build the Institute into a world-renowned research institution which went on to very successfully conduct the science program of the Hubble Space Telescope.

In 1984, Donald N.B. Hall was hired by the University of Hawaii to be the director of its Institute for Astronomy. Specifically, he was charged with developing the observational capacity on the summit of Mauna Kea, one of the premier sites in the world to conduct ground-based astronomy. For the next 13 years, Donald N.B. Hall negotiated with institutes and universities around the world as they sought to build telescopes on the mountain. The negotiations resulted in astronomers at the IfA receiving substantial telescope time on some of the most advanced instruments ever developed.

In 1997, and in response to a growing movement on the part of some environmentalists and Native Hawaiians, the university dismissed Don as director.

He remained a research professor of astronomy at the IfA, where he established an instrumentation lab. His work culminated in the HAWAII series near-infrared detectors, prominently featured in both ground- and space-based astronomy. These detectors are featured in notable instruments including the WFC3 on the Hubble Space Telescope and multiple systems on the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. At the time of his death, he and his team were working on developing new near-infrared detector technology utilizing avalanche photodiode detectors, which have already benefited wide-field survey capabilities for adaptive optics.

In 2010, Donald N.B. Hall received the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation from the American Astronomical Society, and in 2013 he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On March 15, Donald N.B. Hall suffered a massive heart attack. He died on March 18. Surviving him are his wife, Patricia Tummons, of Hilo; his first wife, Sandra Kimberley Hall of Honolulu, mother of son Andrew Hall and daughter Katherine Gonsalves, both of Portland, Oregon; and two grandsons, Malcolm and Theo Gonsalves. He is also survived by his younger brother, Dr. Christopher Hall of Sydney, Australia.

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