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Endowment creates new chair in physics, astronomy

YOUNGSTOWN — Patrick Durrell remembers when Voyager 1 flew by Saturn on Nov. 12, 1980, after passing Jupiter, but by then, his career choice had already made a solid landing.

“I’ve always loved astronomy,” Durrell, director of Youngstown State University’s Ward Beecher Planetarium, recalled. “I know I had an interest, I don’t know, since I was 7, 8 or 9, easily.”

Durrell’s interest in all things outer space germinated when he was in elementary school and a teacher asked him to peer into a telescope, which allowed him to see Saturn for the first time. Also highly influential to Durrell was “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” Carl Sagan’s 13-part TV series in 1980 that covered a wide array of subjects such as the origin of life and our place in the universe.

During a ceremony Sept. 24, Durrell found his latest place in the universe and at YSU — inaugural Dr. Warren M. Young chair in physics and astronomy.

The position was named after Young, who joined the university’s Physics and Astronomy Department in 1962 and directed the planetarium from its opening in 1967 to 2004, at which time Durrell took over.

Young’s son, George, established the position via a $1.5 million YSU Foundation endowment. The elder Young also was chairman of the Physics and Astronomy Department from 1979 to 2004.

“I can’t say strongly enough what a great honor it is to be named to a position carrying the name of a person so admired across the region … for his dedication to sharing his love of the skies and the stars with so many people for more than five decades,” Durrell said.

Before starting his career at YSU in 2004, Durrell had earned a doctorate degree in 1996 in physics from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He also held teaching and postdoctoral positions at Case Western Reserve University, the University of Waterloo and Penn State University.

In his research program, Durrell examines the formation and evolution of galaxies via photometric studies (the study and measurement of light) of stars and star clusters in and outside of galaxies. He also has used imaging data from the Hubble Space Telescope and others.

Durrell praised those who have made a success of the planetarium, which underwent its latest technological upgrade in 2017, courtesy of the Ward and Florence Beecher Foundations, which gave attendees an opportunity to explore the universe in real time.

“We try to keep up with the latest technology to bring space and science to people,” he said. “Astronomy is changing all the time.”

For more information about the planetarium, go to www.wbplanetarium.org.

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