Jeffrey S. Medkeff
|Jeffrey S. Medkeff|
|Died||3 August 2008
|Institutions||Sky & Telescope|
|Alma mater||Ohio State University|
Jeffrey S. Medkeff (1968 – 3 August 2008), usually known as Jeff Medkeff, was a prominent science writer and educator. He was also a designer of robotic telescopes, a minor philanthropist, and an advocate of personal and sexual freedom.
Medkeff was born in Akron, Ohio in 1968, and was raised in nearby Cuyahoga Falls. He contracted asthma early in life, and endured several prolonged hospitalizations as a child. The condition was severe enough to restrict his activity and pose a threat to his life. He attributed a lifelong love of reading and self-directed learning to this experience.
Career as a systems professional
Medkeff was educated at Ohio State University. He was a principal in a technology start-up in the early 1990s, which was sold at great profit. He later took a position as a systems analyst at Ohio State, where he worked while his wife completed veterinary school.
In 1994, Jeff moved to Sierra Vista, Arizona, where he began working at Junk Bond Observatory in an asteroid hunting program. Quickly tiring of the tedious work, he began development of an automated observing and reduction system for this work.
In 1997, he adopted an early form of the Astronomy Common Object Model standard as his primary means of communicating with devices such as telescopes and cameras. He credited the ability to use pre-existing drivers and utility objects as freeing him to concentrate on design and workflow issues for the observatory.
The results were reported in a series of papers to the Minor Planet Amateur-Professional Workshops and in journals. By 1999, the observatory's acquisition of asteroid images was fully automated, and a considerable amount of the reduction was automatic as well. Medkeff founded Rockland Observatory around this time, and was later appointed director of the privately held Small Telescope Astronomical Research Observatory; further development was done at both facilities.
By the end of 2000, the process of selecting targets for a night's observing was under computer control, while still allowing astronomer-specified targets to be defined, and allowing targets of opportunity to interrupt the night's scheduled observing. By this time, a number of observatories in Arizona, Australia and Europe were utilizing Medkeff's system in whole or part. From 2000 to 2004, he refined the software, and also adapted it for use in supernova surveys, cataclysmic variable star photometry, and trans-Neptunian object surveys. By 2004, a number of famous observatories had licensed the software or adapted the source code for their use.
As a result of this work, Medkeff discovered a number of asteroids. He named these asteroids in honor of fellow scientists and skeptics such as Fraser Cain, Derek Colanduno, Robynn McCarthy, PZ Myers, Phil Plait, Michael Stackpole and Rebecca Watson. In 2003, the International Astronomical Union recognised his contribution to science by naming asteroid 41450 Medkeff in his honor, noting that "he has contributed to the discovery and photometric observations of thousands of minor planets."
In the spring of 2004, Medkeff sold his company to a firm specializing in automating seismic observations and retired from the technology field.
Career as science writer and educator
Medkeff began writing on science topics in the 1980s, with his first published article appearing in the September, 1986 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine. He joined that publication as a Contributing Editor in 1997, writing many articles until he resigned the position in 2004. During this period, he also served as a source for numerous journalists and offered background materials on asteroids to many journalists.
In the late 1990s, he was also active in an astronomy club whose mission included public education about astronomy. He developed several talks covering various topics of interest to the general public, and gave them to a number of venues. He was also a prominent speaker on the star party circuit, delivering talks at the Texas Star Party, the Riverside Telescope Makers' Convention, the Northern Arizona Star Party, and several others.
In 2004, Medkeff and his wife moved to Eagle River, Alaska. Having sold his business in Arizona and resigned from his commitment at Sky & Telescope, he concentrated on the development of astronomy and science-oriented educational and public outreach programs. He joined the team of amateur astronomers offering free astronomy lectures at the Eagle River Nature Center, and first delivered a popular talk on stellar evolution at that venue in early 2005.
He went on to develop several more presentations and distributed background material on science to journalists, developing teaching materials and curriculum for teachers and home-schoolers. As of late 2005, he was devoting his personal fortune to this effort, and had not accepted outside funding.
Cancer and death
In early June 2008 Medkeff was diagnosed with primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) and sought treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. He died of cancer complications on 3 August 2008.
- Medkeff, Jeff (March 25, 2008). "Asteroids Named For PZ Myers, Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson, Michael Stackpole". Blue Collar Scientist. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
- "158092 Frasercain (2000 WM68)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "106545 Colanduno (2000 WL68)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "106537 McCarthy (2000 WB63)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved July 27, 2009
- "153298 Paulmyers (2001 FC122)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "165347 Philplait (2000 WG11)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "165612 Stackpole (2001 FP86)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "153289 Rebeccawatson (2001 FB10)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "41450 Medkeff (2000 LF15)", JPL Small-Body Database Browser (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), retrieved August 6, 2009
- "BCS Update - and it isn’t especially good news". Blue Collar Scientist. June 6, 2008. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
- "Yucatangee Eventually Shuts Up: Information and ramblings from a 39 year-old guy with hepatocellular carcinoma.". June 12 - July 12, 2008. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
- Healy, David, et al. Small Robotic Observatories: Operations, Deployment, Future Developments. Minor Planet Amateur-Professional Workshop, 2001.
- Healy, David. Presentation at the Image the Sky conference, 2003.
- Sierra Vista (Arizona) Herald, June 23, 1998.
- Levy, David; Levy, Wendee. Let's Talk Stars, air date October 8, 2002.
- Denny, Bob. IAPPP 2001.
- Minor planet naming citation from Minor White and Myke Collins.
- Huachuca Astronomy Club members observatories page.
- Bakich, Michael. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Amateur Astronomy. 2003. (Foreword by Jeff Medkeff.)
- Medkeff, Jeff. Automatic Asteroid Hunting, Sky & Telescope, August 2000
- Medkeff, Jeff. The ASCOM Revolution, Sky & Telescope, May 2000
- Medkeff, Jeff. My Rubbertown Roots, Sky & Telescope, July 1998
- Medkeff, Jeff. Stellafane: A First-Time Visit, Sky & Telescope, November 1986