Aden B. Meinel

In Memoriam: Aden B. Meinel

October 02, 2011

In Memoriam: Aden B. Meinel, 1922-2011

MeinelAden B. Meinel, a noted astronomer and OSA Fellow Emeritus who served as OSA President in 1972, died on 2 October 2011. He was 88. Meinel was the founding director of both the Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona.

Aden Meinel was born on 25 November 1922. After serving in the US Navy in 1944-1946, he received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1949. Meinel went to the University of Chicago as a Research Associate (1949-1950) and was promoted to Associate Professor (1950-1953). From 1953 to 1956, he was Associate Director at both the Yerkes (Wisconsin) and McDonald (Texas) Observatories. He was then selected by the recently created National Science Foundation (NSF) to lead a team charged with developing a National Astronomical Observatory to provide scientists with access to world class telescopes capable of conducting the most important research.

Meinel and his team identified Kitt Peak in Arizona, part of a mountain range sacred to the people of the Tohono O’odham Nation, as the preferred site for the new Observatory. In 1958, the NSF reached a lease agreement with the Tohono O’odham Nation permitting astronomical research and educational activities, and Meinel was selected as the Kitt Peak National Observatory’s (KPNO) first Director.

In 1961, Meinel left KPNO for the University of Arizona, where he served as the third Director of Steward Observatory (1961-1966) and Professor in the Department of Astronomy (1961-1973). Meinel founded the Optical Sciences Center, now part of the world-renowned College of Optical Sciences, and he served in turn as Director and Chairman (1966-1973), Professor (1973-1985), and Professor Emeritus.

Meinel went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, in 1985 as a Senior Scientist. He was named Distinguished Scientist in 1987, a position he held until he retired in 1993.

An OSA member since 1964, Meinel was elected as a Fellow in 1965. He received the Society’s Adolph Lomb Medal in 1952 and the Frederic Ives Medal in 1980. He was a member of the OSA Board of Directors in 1964-1968 and served as OSA President in 1972.

Meinel was the recipient of numerous awards and honors from other organizations, including the SPIE Goddard Award (1984), Kingslake Medal and Award (1993), and Gold Medal (1997); the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1993); and the American Astronomical Society’s Warner Prize (1954) and George Van Biesbroeck Prize (1990). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962, and he was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2006) and SPIE (1988). Meinel was active in the International Astronomical Union, serving as President, Commission 9 (1973-1976), and he was an Honorary Member of the Astronomical Society of the Republic of China. The Asteroid 4065 Meinel is named in his honor.

Meinel’s wife, Marjorie, was also an astronomer. After raising the couple’s seven children, she returned to her professional career and joined Meinel as a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Together, they helped develop next-generation space-telescope concepts. Marjorie Meinel died in 2008.

The Meinel family will hold a memorial service on Friday 14 October 2011.

If you would like to make a donation to the OSA Foundation in memory of Aden B. Meinel, please visit