Chicago Astronomy Degree Recipients
Alumnus of the Day: Otto Struve, 1923
Alumnus: Otto Struve
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1923

August 12, 1897 - April 6, 1963


Struve was born in 1897 in Kharkiv, the largest city of Sloboda Ukraine, then Russian Empire (now Ukraine). His astronomy experience started early: from the age of eight, he was accompanying father in the telescope tower and from 10 carried out some minor observations, despite his fear of the dark spaces.

He entered the USA in December 1920. In late 1921, Struve began working as a stellar spectroscopy assistant at Yerkes. Struve proved to be a quick learner and talented scientist. Five months after arrival, he made his first discovery of a pulsating star at Gamma Ursae Minoris and wrote an article on it in September 1922. He was spending more time with observations than anyone at Yerkes, trying every telescope available there, and also making weather observations at Williams Bay. On October 24, 1922, he discovered the asteroid 991 McDonalda and on November 14 of the same year, another asteroid 992 Swasey. Struve defended his PhD thesis on short-period spectroscopic double stars at the University of Chicago December 1923. Struve then became an instructor (January 1924), assistant professor (1927) and full professor (1932) at the university.

With more than 900 journal articles and books, Struve was one of the most distinguished and prolific astronomers of the mid-20th century. He served as director of Yerkes, McDonald, Leuschner and National Radio Astronomy Observatories and is credited with raising worldwide prestige and building schools of talented scientists at Yerkes and McDonald observatories. In particular, he hired Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Gerhard Herzberg who later became Nobel Prize winners. Struve's research was mostly focused on binary and variable stars, stellar rotation and interstellar matter. He was one of the few eminent astronomers in the pre-Space Age era to publicly express a belief that extraterrestrial intelligence was abundant, and so was an early advocate of the search for extraterrestrial life.

Learn more