Special to The Tartan: Truman Kohman Observatory Turns Thirty

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Astronomy Club Credit: Photo Courtesy of Astronomy Club

Tucked away on the roof of Scaife Hall is the home of Astronomy Club’s largest telescope as part of the observatory named in honor of Professor Truman Kohman. Born on March 8, 1916 in Champaign, Illinois, Kohman discovered a love for astronomy when he was thirteen and bought his first telescope when he was sixteen. As the son of a food chemist for Cambell’s Soup Company, however, he was persuaded to study chemistry and received a Bachelor’s from Harvard and a Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, though he maintained an active interest in astronomy. He often traveled to South Africa, Indonesia, Hawaii, Brazil, and the Caribbean to view solar eclipses and hosted star parties in his community, and he loved looking at the night sky with his children. After working with the Manhattan Project and Argonne National Labs, Kohman ended up as a professor in the chemistry department at Carnegie Tech. Along with his chemistry work, he taught the physics department’s Introduction to Astronomy class for twenty years and advised the Astronomy Club even after he retired.

Though the club was founded in 1969, efforts to build an observatory did not begin in earnest until 1980. When the climate control system that had been there was updated, the Astronomy Club at the time petitioned to convert the extra space into an observatory. The project took six years to complete, and the observatory officially opened on October 18, 1986. Thirty years later, the observatory is still frequently used by the current Astronomy Club. Though the club’s collection of telescopes has been expanded and updated, the observatory remains much the same as it was. The logbook cycles through the handwriting of club officers over the years recording what they saw in the night sky. And on clear Friday nights, the Astronomy Club makes the trek to the roof of Scaife in a valiant attempt to see beyond the lights of Pittsburgh to look at the same stars that inspired Truman Kohman all those years ago.

Happy 30th Anniversary to the Truman Kohman Observatory!