McCormick Museum

Piet van de Kamp

Piet van de Kamp Piet van de Kamp, or Peter as he was called in America, arrived at the University of Virginia on March 1, 1923 from the Astronomical Laboratory of Groningen, Holland for a year's residence. His visit was made possible through grants from the Draper Fund of the National Academy of Sciences. He arrived at the Leander McCormick Observatory under the leadership of Samuel Mitchell and his extensive parallax program. In addition to assisting with the parallax program, van de Kamp assisted Harold Alden with the lengthy Boss star project. This proper motion work determined that systematic errors predicted by Kapteyn were only one-third the severity predicted and they published their results in 1924.

After one year at UVa, van de Kamp went to the Lick Observatory in California as a Kellogg fellow. There he received his Ph.D. from the University of California in Astronomy in June 1925. Meanwhile, back in Virginia, Alden resigned his position to go to Yale's observatory in South Africa. This left an open professorial position and a position on the McCormick observatory staff.

van de Kamp In March of 1925, Mitchell began making arrangements for van de Kamp to return to the University of Virginia. Van de Kamp returned October 1, 1925 to the title of Instructor and promised new living quarters. A small cottage beside the observatory already housed Alexander Vyssotsky and Kovolenko, to which was added another bedroom and another bathroom. The McCormick family agreed to help pay for part of the addition along with the University.

His work consisted of assisting with the parallax program and continuing the proper motion work that he and Alden had begun. Van de Kamp and Vyssotsky spent eight years measuring 18,000 proper motions. He did additional, smaller projects individually, including an investigation for general and selective absorption of light within the galaxy. In 1928, he received a promotion from instructor to assistant professor.

Van de Kamp was also a very talented musician. He helped to organize the Observatory Mountain Orchestra (a precursor to the Charlottesville and University Symphony), which he conducted and included fellow astronomer Vyssotsky. He also composed music, both for the orchestra and for the piano. His unpublished "Lullaby" can be found at the Music Library at the University of Virginia.

van de Kamp, 1985Ruth Gienow and Piet van de Kamp, 1985 In the spring of 1937, van de Kamp resigned his position at the Leander McCormick Observatory to take over as director of Swarthmore College's Sproul Observatory. Fortunately, he did not sever all ties with UVa. He returned on multiple occasions to deliver guest lectures and meet with old friends at the University. He attended the centennial celebration of the observatory held in 1985. (He is shown left speaking at that event and at the right with Ruth Gienow.)  He arranged the loaning of equipment from the Sproul Observatory to the University of Virginia when requested. He authored a biographical memoir of Harold Alden for the National Academy of Sciences. He also continued his love of music with the orchestra at Swarthmore College.