Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Alumnus shares scientific discoveries that help pinpoint the age of the universe

Frank BashFrank Bash

The universe is 13.7 billion years old. During a visit to Willamette University on March 6, Frank Bash ’59 showed us.

Bash gave a free lecture titled “How We Know How the Universe Started” in Ford Hall. The talk explored the importance of several recent discoveries that have helped scientists pinpoint the age of the universe.

The lecture followed the dedication of Willamette’s Core Imaging Facility in the lobby of the Olin Science Center. The facility was made possible by a grant from the National Science foundation and will open up new research opportunities for students and staff.

Bash says curiosity should be the main motivator for attendees.

“I talk about one of the most important recent discoveries that people don’t often know about ... [as well as] the notion that our understanding of science adds to the beauty of nature,” he says.

Bash graduated from Willamette with a physics major and art history minor. Afterward, he completed his master’s degree in astronomy at Harvard University and earned his doctorate from the University of Virginia. He retired in 2004 after serving 14 years as director of the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. The observatory is a world leader in research and education, and its Hobby-Eberly telescope is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world.

His interest in astronomy, Bash said, was ignited long ago by one of his Willamette professors.

“When I was at Willamette, astronomy wasn’t taught, but one of my professors, professor Stewart, noticed my interest,” Bash says. “Professor Stewart would purchase books for me and take me out with a telescope to look at the sky. Through my personal relationship with him, my interest in astronomy really became a focused passion.”

Now Bash is the one inspiring students. While at Willamette, he visited Bush Elementary School, where he observed Willamette students teaching science to young learners as part of the Webber program. Bash also visited one of Willamette’s astronomy classes.

“I wonder if there is someone sitting in that class, like me, 50 years ago,” he says. “I want to show students that there is someone who made it, and that if they have the interest, they can make it too.”