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Paul Coleman, 62, the first Native Hawaiian to earn a doctorate in astrophysics and noted for his public outreach efforts on behalf of the field, died on 16 January 2018 at his home in Aiea, Hawaii. Born in Honolulu on 25 March 1955 to William Edward Coleman and Pearl Maile Luning Coleman, he received his BS in Physics from the University of Notre Dame, and his PhD in Physics from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985 while working t the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. His doctoral research focused on the angular size of faint radio-wave sources and its implications for cosmological models.
After a year as a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech, Coleman accepted a position at the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in Groningen, The Netherlands. He was a member of the scientific staff there for eight years, applying fractal mathematical methods to the large scale structure of the universe and developing software for use in radio astronomy. He came back to the United States with a series of faculty appointments at New Mexico Tech, Yale University, and the University of Puerto Rico, before arriving at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA) in 2002. It was there in his native Hawaii that Coleman took up the public outreach activities and advocacy for which he is recognized. He sought to increase Native Hawaiian participation in the sciences by leading many members of the Hawaiian community — students, politicians, residents — on visits to the observatories on Mauna Kea and Haleakala. He addressed civic and business groups, connecting the future of astronomy with the rich history of Polynesian voyaging. “The ancient Hawaiians explored the Pacific and made early discoveries while putting to use a real-world application of astronomy,” he said. (Honolulu Star Advertiser, 19 March 2018)
Coleman was an outspoken supporter of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) on Haleakala, as well as the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project atop Mauna Kea, whose construction had been temporarily halted due to claims of its negative impact on Native Hawaiian culture and religion. His vision was for a Hawaii engaged with and employed by the astronomical institutions sited on its peaks. Coleman was an advisor for the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, and served on the state's Hawaiian Lexicon Committee, helping craft new Hawaiian words to keep up with advances in science.
For nearly a decade, Coleman led the IfA’s National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which brought undergraduates from around the country to conduct research with IfA astronomers during the summer. He also helped lead the NSF's mitigation program for the DKIST, to advance Native Hawaiian participation in STEM fields, and he worked closely with Haleakala’s Faulkes Telescope North project, a remotely operable telescope used by students around the world. In addition, he was a research adviser to the next generation of Native Hawaiian astronomers, many of whom are now active researchers in the field.
“It’s a big loss for us,” said Robert McLaren, interim director of the IfA. “He was one of our best undergraduate instructors, and he was a mentor to many. He will be irreplaceable.” (Honolulu Star Advertiser, 19 March 2018)
Coleman is survived by his wife, D. Dianne Bowen-Coleman and daughters Catherine Hali'amemaheaikekai Bowen Coleman and Elizabeth Noheahinali`imauliola Bowen Coleman his father, William Edward Coleman; brothers, William Coleman, Jr. and Michael Coleman and sisters, Ka'ala Coleman and Manu Ka`iama.
Photo credit: IfA, University of Hawaii
Obituary written by: Alan Hirshfeld (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth)
BAAS Citation: BAAS, 2018, 50, 012