I attended U of Rochester in the early 1980's, and while I had a life-long interest in astronomy, I was dismayed to discover that serious astrophysics courses required hardcore math skills I lacked. So I studied other topics, including, in my senior year, "The Physics of Music", taught by Professor Sharpless, who had a lifelong love of music and considered this seminar (which was very hands-on with equipment like acoustic spectrum analyzers) a labor of love. He was an incredibly kind-hearted, down-to-earth, personable fellow, and if there was an Internet back then, I'd have have quickly looked him up and found out who he actually was. But this was Rochester, not, like, Yale, so one didn't expect one's professors to be celebs.
So I never found out, but really enjoyed my time with him. There was something personal and heartfelt about that class that was far from the norm. I couldn't attribute it to anything, being just a kid at the time, but I now understand it was the palpable patina of the oh-so-rare combination of stature and earnestness. Eminence without arrogance, pomposity, condescension or cynicism. Prof Sharpless obviously retained his child-like earnest eagerness about science, and he treated everyone like a colleague. He was a low-gravitas individual (LGI?)
I went on to degrees in things like philosophy, music, and politics, but never lost interest in astronomy, though I still lack math skills to this day. I'm a faithful APOD viewer, where every reference to Prof. Sharpless and his famous catalog gives me a sad smile. It was great to be in his class, but, oh, man, how I wish I'd milked more astronomy stories from him, lobbied for an invitation to the observatory, etc (he mentioned something about taking the class there some Saturday, but it never came together). I just didn't realize who he was - though, on a deeper level, "who he was" did quietly inspire me.
I hope this brief remembrance wasn't inappropriate here.
Last edited by Jim Leff on Fri Jun 14, 2013 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.