Life and Career of Jocelyn Tomkin, Astronomer  -

A 1945-1952 Diana & Jock – Farms & Family in England & Tasmania F 1870-1900 Jock – Parents & Grandparents – Empire
B 1953-1957 Diana & Jock – Mark, Joc & Giles – To Ireland G 1901-1939 Jock – His Youth and Upbringing
C 1956-1959 Diana & Jock – Ireland, Riding & More H 1938-1978 Jock – A Man of Many Families
D 1960-1962 Diana & Jock – Sailing, Swimming & Sculpture I 1295-1975 Diana’s Family – Boys School &, Skiing
E 1962-1964 Diana & Jock – Boys getting older J Jocelyn Tomkin, Astronomer

Jocelyn Tomkin, Astronomer  -

The late Jocelyn Tomkin (Aug 1945 – Apr 2020), a Research Fellow at The University of Texas, was always fascinated with astronomy. As a youth he enjoyed stargazing with a small refracting telescope, not knowing that he would become a professional astronomer. "I didn't know I actually wanted to be an astronomer," he said. "I didn't decide that until I was in my last year of college."

Jocelyn was born in his parents' native England and lived there until he was six years old. The family then immigrated to Tasmania, where his father took up sheep farming. After two years, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother and younger brother to Ireland, where Jocelyn stayed until he graduated from college.

Jocelyn was remembered as a most valuable colleague in the department. He was a stalwart observer and worker at the McDonald Observatory telescope in West Texas, and again back in Austin trying to make sense of the observations collected.

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While at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, Jocelyn was lucky enough to be in a math class taught by Mr. Graham, who became his favorite instructor. Jocelyn remembered him as being informal, but also very interestingly instructive.  He helped Jocelyn see math in a whole new way, he said - "I was able to think about math in more relaxed terms," he remembered, "rather than thinking that things were carved in stone like the ten commandments."

When he finished his college degree in physics, Jocelyn decided that he wanted to do astronomical research. At the University of Sussex in England he earned a Ph.D. in astronomy, and then took up a position doing research at the University of Texas in 1973, which was suggested by his Ph.D. supervisor Professor Bernard Pagel. For him, the best part about studying astronomy was the thrilling idea that it really was possible to discover something completely new.

When at the McDonald telescope they saw the star Groombridge 1830, Jocelyn was especially excited because it had been the focus of his Ph.D., a dim star 15.9 light years away. It had been interesting enough that his Ph.D. supervisor had already renamed his own house in Lewes, UK to `Groombridge’.

Those McDonald observations of Groombridge 1830 led to the discovery that the star’s atmosphere was deficient in the two heavier isotopes of magnesium. This deficiency had been predicted by theoreticians but not previously observed in any star. It was Jocelyn’s extremely careful and detailed analysis that uncovered the deficiency and created some excitement. Recently it is suspected to have a planetary system. The magnesium discovery was but one in a string of novel results in which Jocelyn was ultimately involved.

Colleagues have said they enjoyed collaborations with many astronomers from across the world but declare without hesitation that Jocelyn was one of the best.

Colleagues were also impressed by how Jocelyn readily adapted to working with a continuing string of postdoc and graduate students from the US and across the world who came through the University of Texas at Austin during these 35 years. Jocelyn was a true gentleman in and out of astronomy.

He never married nor had a significant other, but dedicated his spare time to helping others. Two different non-profit societies in Austin were beneficiaries of his volunteer time, as well as his teaching of individual under-privileged youths and adults how to read for many years. When his younger brother moved to the USA in the early 1990s, he was of outstanding material assistance in aiding this brother's housing and immigration status.

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Jocelyn used the 1997 Hipparcos satellite data release to create the most up-to-date list ever of the historically brightest stars over the last or next 5 million years [sic] published by Wikipedia in 1998 at -
although it is understood that improved satellite telescope imagery since then has modified this list.

When he was diagnosed with Parkinson's he moved to North Carolina to be near his brother for his final years.

He published over sixty peer-reviewed papers on original research results during his career, many of which can be seen with a simple web search using the phrase "Jocelyn Tomkin astronomer" providing a wealth of material generated during his career.

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