May 302012

In Memoriam: Richard Crowe, professor of physics and astronomy, was a fervent promoter of Hawaiian culture in astronomy and science.

Richard Crowe

Richard Crowe, professor of physics and astronomy, researched pulsating stars, stellar evolution and spectroscopy. He was co-author of 47 scientific publications (16 first author), 25 of them major ones listed in the Web of Science, with a Hirsch citation index of 13. Crowe also authored nine articles, two of them major ones listed in the Web of Science, that critique astrology, UFOlogy, Mars “face” claims, and creationism.

In 1991, Crowe was selected as a Fujio Matsuda Research Fellow by a university-wide committee for his scholarly work on pulsating variable stars. He regularly trained UH Hilo student observers with the UH 24-inch telescope on Mauna Kea, and conducted many research programs on that telescope. In 2005, he won the AstroDay Excellence in Teaching Award for his efforts.

High atop Mauna Kea in 2001, Richard Crowe (second from left) stands with a group of UH Hilo astronomy students in front of the UH 24-inch telescope (now dismantled), where they conducted overnight observations while bundled up to withstand very cold temperatures.

Crowe was principal investigator on the New Opportunities through Minority Initiatives in Space Science (NOMISS) grant ($675,000) funded by NASA, and a co-investigator on the Keaholoa grant ($2,413,000) funded by the National Science Foundation. These grant programs were designed to encourage local and Hawaiian students to enter careers in space science by working with K-12 teachers and integrating astronomy with Polynesian sky lore, voyaging, and Hawaiian culture. While doing this, Crowe delivered over 50 StarLab presentations in both public and private schools, and participated in formal voyaging canoe (the Wa‘a Makali‘i) training.

In 2001, Crowe and Alice Kawakami, then a professor of education at UH Hilo, won City Bank’s TIGR Award in Astronomy for NOMISS community outreach efforts. In 2002, he completed a revised version of Stars Over Hawai‘i, a popular book that integrates modern astronomy with Hawaiian skylore and navigation.

Professor Crowe served as chair for the UH Hilo Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1992-2002, and was a member of the UH Hilo Sigma Xi Chapter since 1990. For its activities while he was chapter president in 1991-92, the UH Hilo Sigma Xi Chapter was awarded the prestigious Certificate of Excellence by a national committee. He also represented UH Hilo at the 1991 Sigma Xi Forum on Global Change and the Human Prospect held in Washington, D.C., at the 1996 Sigma Xi Forum on Science, Technology and the Global Society held in San Diego, and at the 1999 Sigma Xi Forum on Reshaping Undergraduate Science Education held in Minneapolis.

Crowe also delivered many public and school lectures on the subject of astronomy. He was a co-team leader on the Journey Through the Universe program, and was active in publicly promoting science education and critical thinking, having written 18 Hawai‘i newspaper articles on these subjects.

Professor Crowe was a member of the Rotary Club of Hilo Bay since 2002, and served as club president in 2007-08.

Crowe was well known as an active amateur musician; he played clarinet with the Hawai‘i County Band since 1986, and had been a member of the UH Hilo Wind Ensemble, the UH Hilo Orchestra, the University Chamber Singers, the University Chorus, and the Kanilehua Chorale. Crowe also accompanied on piano, acted in, or conducted several musical productions in West Hawai‘i, including West Side Story, South Pacific, and Company. In 1992, he performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as a solo pianist with the Hawai‘i County Band.


Richard Crowe was a professor of physics and astronomy at UH Hilo. He was a member of the UH Hilo faculty since 1987 and was awarded tenure in 1992. On May 27, 2012, he was killed in a jeep accident while on a tour of Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.

Professor Crowe’s teaching responsibilities ranged from introductory physics and astronomy to quantum physics, classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, astrophysics, and senior level quantum mechanics. He developed many on-line Web assignments and course presentations, including general astronomy, general astronomy laboratory, observational astronomy, stellar astrophysics, galactic astrophysics, comparative planetology, and climate change. 

Professor Crowe was the astronomer-in-residence at UH Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i starting in 2006, and did many planetarium presentations in that capacity. In 2010, Crowe and ‘Imiloa Planetarium Manager Shawn Laatsch were presented with the prestigious UH Hilo Taniguchi Award for Innovation in Teaching and Research for using the planetarium to teach introductory astronomy. 

Crowe had an extensive background in observatory support work. Between 1977-79, he was the resident observer for the University of Toronto 24-inch Southern Observatory at Las Campanas, Chile. He was also the Canadian resident astronomer for the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope from 1984-87. During his residency at CFHT, he had scientific responsibility for the high-resolution spectrograph, and was the observatory’s public relations officer responsible for preparing the publication of the CFHT Information Bulletin.

Crowe received his bachelor of science and master of science in astronomy from the University of Western Ontario in 1977 and his doctor of philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1984. His publications are listed in the Astrophysics Data System.