Announcing the 2014 AAVSO Council Nominees

Please click on the name of the nominee to view his/her online biography.  Council election ballots were mailed to each member in mid-September.  Best of luck to all of our nominees!

                   * = running for re-election


Dave Cowall, Nanticoke, MD

Click Here for Dave's CV

I have been a proud member of AAVSO for over 20 years. I firmly believe that the mission of our organization is best served when revenue and purpose are properly balanced.  Trained both as an oncologist and as a palliative medicine physician, I held a joint position at two non-profits:  a cancer center and a hospice.  In that capacity, I facilitated collaboration between the two institutions, directed scientific research, served as treasurer on the executive committee of the hospital medical staff, and served as one of the four members of the hospice senior management team which had major fiduciary responsibilities.  If elected to the council, I would endeavor to have the assets of our endowments allocated in balanced portfolios consistent with good business practices of similarly-sized non-profits.  I would recommend incentives for the employed AAVSO staff and professional council members to increase their grant funding.  One of the great strengths of our institution is the excellent collaborative relationship between the professional and amateur astronomer members.  To preserve that relationship, I would support bylaws changes ensuring that there would always be equipoise of amateurs and professionals on the council.  As an amateur member, I have functioned both as a visual and CCD photometrist, so I understand the value and needs of both types of observers.  Since retirement last year, I have the time necessary to meet my responsibilities as a council member.  As an eight year Navy veteran, I understand what it means to serve.  I ask for your vote


Barbara Harris, New Smyrna Beach, FL

I have had an interest in astronomy since high school.  I became a serious amateur astronomer after graduating medical school and completing my residency in OB/Gyn.  As much as I enjoy the beauty of the night sky, the scientist in me craved the astrophysics.  This interest in science became stronger when I purchased a CCD camera.  I did not want to just take “pretty pictures”, I wanted data from the images I would be taking.  This led me immediately to the AAVSO.  I have been a member of the AAVSO since the mid-1990s.  I immediately started CCD photometry.  Photometry has become an addiction for me.  I enjoy cataclysmic variables and especially enjoy eclipsing binaries.  Pretty picture astronomy for me is seeing images of light curves!

As a member of the AAVSO Council, I will do all I can to help maintain the status of the AAVSO as a premier pro-am astronomy organization.   The AAVSO has done an excellent job of providing education and guidance to its members so that they can submit data that professional astronomers can utilize without question.  I would like to see programs like the CHOICE courses continue and expand.  I also would like to see the mentoring program expanded so that new members to the organization can contribute data quickly.  I would like to better advertise the talents of our members to professional astronomers so that they can be confident of the quality of the data being submitted by our members.

Rodney Howe, Fort Collins, CO

My occupational work has been with Landsat and AVHRR satellite data classifying agriculture crop land images for the USDA. Responsibilities included experience in computer science, and Geographic Information Systems with the knowledge and skills for photometry and data analysis of image classification. Knowledge from this work has given me some experience with processing images of dense globular clusters, using images collected by AAVSO net of telescopes. Results of this work have been published in 2010 – 2011 SAS proceedings (Society for Astronomical Sciences).

I’ve been a member of AAVSO since 1999, when I began collecting Very Low Frequency radio data on Gamma Ray Bursts and Solar Ionosphere Disturbances (SID). In 2007 – 2009 I was a board member for the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers and I am still a mentor for those interested in radio astronomy. More recently I have been the Solar Bulletin editor and chairperson for the AAVSO Solar Section.

Since I became the Solar Section Chair in 2010, I’ve done what I can to promote the AAVSO optical sunspot counts to solar scientists around the world, who are interested in the long standing American Relative sunspot index. By attending the last four Sunspot Number Workshops ( the AAVSO solar sunspot number is becoming recognized as a published index.

Diversity in the AAVSO solar observers makes for a vibrant and robust data pool. It’s interesting how many young people come to AAVSO for help in building VLF radios, or counting sunspots, and how they are interested in space-weather. 

Some presentations I’ve given at the Sunspot Number workshops can be found here:

Stellar type publications are here:

AAVSO Solar Bulletin:
Howe, 2011 et al. Imaging M15 with a small aperture telescope by treating the core as a single star

Howe, 2010 et al. Imaging Dense Globular Clusters like M3 and M15

Howe, 2007, Solar Plasma Motion Detection at Radio Frequencies

Howe, 2004, Detection of Gamma Ray Bursts and X-ray transient SGR1806-20 with VLF
Radio Telescopes

However, these won’t describe what kind of decisions I might make at the AAVSO council meetings. One perspective I have on the AAVSO is this: ‘slow science’ is a term used to describe the long term visual observations of variable stars and the sun. Here’s a quote I like from Nature magazine (300 | NATURE | VOL 495 | 21 MARCH 2013)

“Some generate hundreds of papers a year; one produces a single data point per decade. Experiments operating at this pace are challenged by shifting research priorities and technologies, and their existence is regularly threatened by funding droughts and changes in stewardship. But they are bound together by the foresight of the scientists who started them and the patience and dedication of those who carry the torch.”

It’s amazing to me how the observational data flow keeps coming and coming. Visual observers and CCD imaging will leave a legacy and new observers seem willing to follow along, perhaps tweak a little here or there, but always seem to respect the original ‘experiment’. We pick up a new technology; try it out to see if it can be integrated into what has gone before. If it works and makes new discoveries then we’ll adopt it, if not, just let it go. One challenge I see for the AAVSO council will be; can we (or how do we) integrate satellite CCD images into the historical data stream of visual observations? 


Katrien Kolenberg, Cambridge, MA

I started out as a young amateur astronomer, and am delighted to be studying variable stars for a living now, as a stellar astrophysicist working between the University of Leuven (Belgium) and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA. My research focuses on pulsations in different types of variables, mostly RR Lyrae stars.  I have led research projects combining photometric (PMT, CCD, visual, including AAVSO), spectroscopic, and spectropolarimetric data, obtained both from the ground and from space. In confronting these precious data with stellar models, we get a better understanding of the inner workings of stars. I enjoy my fruitful collaborations with amateur astronomers just as much as my involvement in current/upcoming space missions for variable stars (e.g., Kepler/K2, Gaia).  My experience across the spectrum of astronomical facilities has made me appreciate the AAVSO’s historical position and unique role all the more!

I have a strong commitment to astronomy education and outreach, particularly for disadvantaged communities where inspiration makes the most difference. This drives me as Co-Chair of Task Force 1 (Astronomy for Universities and Research) the International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development.  I have organized astronomy schools and workshops worldwide for students and high-school teachers, and always point out variable stars as an exciting research field that is both inclusive and expansive.

The AAVSO is at a pivotal time in its history, and an exciting mix of challenges and opportunities are ahead of us (a renewed professional emphasis on time-domain astronomy, advances in technology facilitating increased participation, continued role of visual observing).

As a Council member, I would like to help the AAVSO expand its membership in age range, gender, and localization (worldwide) through targeted outreach projects, as well as increase and enhance Pro-Am collaborations.


John Martin, Springfield, IL

I am a tenured Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Springfield where I teach astronomy and physics, direct the Barber Research Observatory and chair the Chemistry Department.  I have served on the AAVSO Council for the last three years as a member of the Program Committee with a record of responding enthusiastically when the HQ staff and Council request help. 

My scholarship centers on stellar astrophysics specializing in hot massive stars.  I am an active CCD, PEPV, and visual observer (UIS01) published professionally in the areas of supernovae and supernovae impostors (NSF Grant AST- 1108890), high galactic latitude B-stars (kinematics and abundance analysis), Be stars (long time domain spectroscopy), and Eta Carinae (HST GO-13377 and others).  I have extensive experience working with non-professionals.  Community volunteers staff the research observatory I direct and I have included non-professionals as collaborators on many projects.  I am also involved in AAVSO efforts to increase non-professional engagement in spectroscopy. 

As the only incumbent running for reelection, I think a mix of continuity and new ideas are important.  There are still issues to be tackled with regard to the annual budget, the demographics and engagement of our membership and our programmatic focus in an era of all-sky surveys.  Our new director also starts next year.  My allegiances and attitudes are not exclusively professional or non-professional.  I am eager to continue my service for the AAVSO and I hope the membership is satisfied enough with my record to chose me for another term.


Joe Patterson, New York, NY

I grew up in Japan, studied history in college, but fell in love with astronomy at 1:10 pm EST on March 7, 1970 (solar eclipse).  The next day I bought my first telescope... and after I couldn't afford them any more, I had to become a professional astronomer.  A few other short careers intervened: high school teacher, summer camp director, sportswriter.  In 1979 I emerged a new astronomy PhD from the University of Texas.

After stops at Michigan and Harvard, I landed at Columbia University, where I've professed astronomy since 1983.  I study the structure and evolution of close binaries containing compact stars, especially white dwarfs (the cataclysmic variables).  I use telescopes in Arizona, Chile, South Africa, and Earth-orbit... but my favorite and most versatile is the network of backyard scopes comprising the Center for Backyard Astrophysics. Founded by Dave Skillman in 1980, the CBA now includes ~20 telescopes scattered around the world, and acquires very long (weeks to months) strings of high-speed photometry - mostly concentrating on cataclysmic variables.  We also use the AAVSO archive heavily to study the stars on still-longer timescales (years to decades).

I've been heavily involved in public outreach all the way, and even managed to acquire an asteroid for my efforts (8794).  On the AAVSO council I'd look forward to strengthening ties between the research and hobby components of variable-star astronomy.


Richard Sabo, Bozeman, MT

Dr. Richard Sabo is a retired surgeon and past president of the American College of Surgeons, an educational and standards setting organization with over 79,000 members worldwide.   During his fourteen years of service in a leadership position, he was a governor, regent, founding member of the Committee on Health Information Technology, member of the executive committee and president of the organization.  Richard is active in the Southwest Montana Astronomical Society doing outreach through public presentations, school programs and summer star parties in Yellowstone National Park. 

He joined the AAVSO in 2007, which transformed his casual hobby into a gratifying and scientifically useful avocation.  His evolution as an observer depended on the AAVSO’s online manuals, CHOICE courses, spring and fall meetings, CCD School and collaboration with the generous members of the AAVSO.  He has contributed over 180,000 observations to the AID and has been cited as coauthor in over 20 published papers.  Richard has participated in the AAVSO transformation committee, the search committee for the new director,   and has contributed some software utility programs for combining AAVSO reports. 

If elected to the council, he would bring his past experience in non-profit organizational governance as well as a pure amateur/hobbyist point of view.  He would support the maximum possible communication between those who request observing campaigns and those who supply the data.  He would encourage observing section leaders and campaign directors to clearly explain the science objective of their projects and provide regular updates on the progress of the campaigns.


Bradley Walter, Lockhart, TX

I learned to navigate the night sky lying on the front lawn with binoculars and a copy of Menzel’s Field Guide to the Stars and Planets. My interest in astronomy as a teenager was primarily learning the constellations and casual binocular observing. Like many, after graduating from college my attention was focused on building a career and family. Until moving to Texas in 2000, my astronomical activities were limited to looking at Messier objects, the planets and the moon through my trusty 4.5” Newtonian.   

Almost immediately after moving to Texas, I started observing seriously. I attended my first Texas Star party in 2003 and joined AAVSO in 2004. I quickly migrated from visual observing to film astronomical photography and then to CCD photometry. I rapidly came to appreciate the support, guidance, tools and opportunities that AAVSO provides to amateurs, including pro-am interaction.  

I participate regularly in AAVSO campaigns and pro-am collaborations and pursue independent observing interests including exoplanet transit light curves, and white dwarf observations at the Meyer Observatory of the Central Texas Astronomical Society. CTAS does white dwarf research in conjunction with the University of Texas and as part of the Whole Earth Telescope.  Occasionally I have assisted with week-long White dwarf observing runs on the 82” telescope at McDonald observatory. I have been the AAVSO liaison for the Meyer Observatory since 2007, and recently started a new CTAS photometric research project using its 24” robotic RC telescope to discover additional rapidly pulsating sdO and sdB stars and re-observe those previously surveyed in pulsating sdB searches to see if there have been period, modal or temperature changes. Research recently published indicates that EHB stars can “change their spots” on very short time scales. 

About two years ago I scaled back my business activities, giving up management responsibility. That gave me time to start being more than a casual participant in AAVSO activities. Since then I have tried to give back to the organization by participating in the sequence team, serving as an instructor for CHOICE courses, developing additional materials for future CHOICE courses, and writing instructions for a VStar plug-in. I have also assisted other AAVSO observers whenever possible with research and information.

I am very active in astronomy related education for junior high school and high school students. As part of the CTAS educational focus, I have mentored several student ISEF projects. In 2009 the student I helped won the ISEF Junior division physics prize at the Texas state level with a project comparing exoplanet light curves through different Johnson-Cousins filters. In 2012, another student I assisted won the area and central Texas regional Army - Air Force prize for his ISEF project fitting models to exoplanet light curves to estimate planet sizes and transit impact parameters. Through CTAS I also support area school teams participating in the Academic Decathlon providing information and tutorials on topics in astronomy and physics. I also regularly assist students doing astronomy related projects to fulfill academic requirements at the high school, junior high school and community college level.  On average I spend hundreds of hours per year assisting students with astronomy related projects.  I also participate in CTAS outreach events and in conjunction with the Austin Astronomical Society I have conducted several outreach events at Lockhart state park.

If elected to the AAVSO council I hope to apply the problem solving, enthusiasm, focus and management skills that have facilitated a successful business and engineering career to help AAVSO continue to do the activities it has done extremely well in the past, and improve those activities. I would like to help expand membership and member interaction though more educational and astronomical skills development opportunities; adding to our observing and research tools; increasing joint research with professionals, including more fundamental involvement than simply determining that a star isn’t in outburst; and providing more AAVSO generated observational, data mining and “citizen science” projects.  

My wife, Jan, and I live on a ranch about 40 miles outside of Austin, Texas. We have horses, grow hay, and are involved in wildlife management on the ranch. Jan is a retired business executive turned Texas master naturalist and master gardener. She is an avid equestrian, manages the ranch and volunteers with Texas Parks and Wildlife conducting educational activities for area schools in earth sciences.