Wallace L. W. Sargent

Wallace Leslie William Sargent FRS[1] (February 15, 1935 – October 29, 2012) was a British-born American astronomer[5] and the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy at California Institute of Technology.[2]

Wal Sargent
Wallace Leslie William Sargent

(1935-02-15)February 15, 1935
DiedOctober 29, 2012(2012-10-29) (aged 77)
EducationUniversity of Manchester (BSc, PhD)
Anneila Sargent (m. 1964)
AwardsFRS (1981)[1]
Scientific career
InstitutionsCalifornia Institute of Technology[2]
ThesisSome Problems in Cosmical Gas Dynamics (1959)
Doctoral advisorFranz Daniel Kahn[3][4]
Doctoral students


Sargent was born in Elsham, North Lincolnshire, the son of a gardener and a housecleaner, and grew up in Winterton, Lincolnshire.[6] Sargent was the first person in his family to attend high school, and the first student from his high school to ever attend college.[7] He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Manchester in 1956, and his Ph.D. in 1959 from the same institution.[1]

Career and researchEdit

Sargent spent the majority of his career at California Institute of Technology (Caltech),[2] excepting an absence of four years during which he claims to have had to go back to England to find himself a wife, Anneila Sargent.

Sargent carried out research in many areas of astronomy including stars, galaxies, quasars and active galactic nuclei, quasar absorption lines, and the intergalactic medium. He pioneered the detection of supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei using stellar dynamics, and published the first dynamical measurement of the mass of the black hole in the elliptical galaxy Messier 87.[8]

He supervised the theses of a number of students while at Caltech, including John Huchra,[3] Edwin Turner, Charles C. Steidel, and Alex Filippenko.[9]

He was director of the Palomar Observatory from 1997 to 2000.

Donald Lynden-Bell, Roger Griffin (Astronomer), Neville Woolf, and Wal Sargent were in the film Star Men that documented some of their professional accomplishments at their fiftieth reunion to redo a memorable hike. The film also revealed the personalities of these men.

Awards and HonorsEdit

Personal lifeEdit

Sargent was married to fellow Caltech astronomer Anneila Sargent from 1964 until his death. Although he became a U.S. citizen, he was born in Elsham, England.[2] He was an atheist.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d Lynden-Bell, Donald (2015). "Wallace Leslie William Sargent. 15 February 1935 — 29 October 2012". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. London: Royal Society. 61. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2015.0018. ISSN 0080-4606.
  2. ^ a b c d "Wallace Sargent's Homepage". Caltech. Archived from the original on 2015-04-28.
  3. ^ a b c Wallace L. W. Sargent at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  4. ^ Dyson, James E.; Lynden Bell, Donald (1999). "Franz Daniel Kahn. 13 May 1926 -- 8 February 1998: Elected F.R.S. 1993". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 45 (0): 255–267. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0017. ISSN 0080-4606.
  5. ^ 10/30/2012. "Caltech Mourns the Passing of Wallace L. W. Sargent | Caltech". Caltech.edu. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
  6. ^ "Wallace L.W. Sargent dies at 77; Caltech astrophysicist". latimes.com.
  7. ^ Steidel, Charles C. (2013). "Wallace L. W. Sargent (1935–2012)". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 125 (925): 225–226. Bibcode:2013PASP..125..225S. doi:10.1086/669931. ISSN 1538-3873.
  8. ^ Sargent, W. L. W.; Young, P. J.; Lynds, C. R.; Boksenberg, A.; Shortridge, K; Hartwick, F. D. A. (1978). "Dynamical evidence for a central mass concentration in the galaxy M87". The Astrophysical Journal. 221: 731. Bibcode:1978ApJ...221..731S. doi:10.1086/156077.
  9. ^ "List of Sargent's PhD Students". astro.caltech.edu. Archived from the original on 2015-07-09.
  10. ^ "Wallace Sargent". NNDB.com. Retrieved 17 July 2012.