Reprinted with permission from Santa Barbara News-Press (California, U.S.).

Physicist reaches heights of profession


Kroemer   UCSB professor Herbert Kroemer was at the top of his profession when he found out he shared the Nobel Prize in physics last year.
   But his name reached new heights about 10 days ago when, out of the deep blue sky, he was informed that an astronomer named an asteroid after him.
   "It's one of the most unexpected consequences of getting the Nobel Prize," a chuckling Mr. Kroemer said Monday. "This is a great deal of fun, I can tell you."
   For that he can thank German astronomer Freimut Boerngen *, who Mr. Kroemer said has a knack for discovering asteroids and a habit of naming them after prominent German scientists from his region.
   Mr. Kroemer, 73, said it was a bit of serendipity that led to Mr. Boerngen's decision to tag what was known as asteroid 24,751 with the name Herbert Kroemer.
   In June, the professor took a trip to his native Germany to give a speech at the University of Jena, where he was briefly a student before his escape from East Germany in 1948. He came to the United States in 1959, and joined the faculty at UCSB in 1976.
   His hometown of Weimar was nearby, and since he was in the neighborhood, Mr. Kroemer decided to stop by his old high school, the Friedrich Schiller Gymnasium. On the rooftop of its star-gazing observatory with school officials, a photographer took a picture of the Nobel Prize-winning local boy who made good.
   The photo ran in the local newspaper, and it was seen by Mr. Boerngen, who first discovered the asteroid in 1992 but had never met the prize-winning physicist.
   Apparently it's not such an easy thing to win the right to name an asteroid.
   An asteroid must be independently viewed several times, and only when the orbit can be exactly predicted will it be formally registered, Mr. Kroemer said.
   The professor said he got an e-mail from Mr. Boerngen earlier this month telling him his name had been approved by the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard University body that authorizes asteroid names.
   "I totally cracked up," Mr. Kroemer said. "At first I didn't tell anyone, then I made the mistake of talking about it. And you know what happens then."
   Press releases, of course.
   The professor said roughly 100 (thousands) ** asteroids are found each year, and 800 (this must be 8000, exactly 8956 on Nov. 2001) ** have been named, perhaps one third of the total discovered.
   The asteroid named after Mr. Kroemer is about four miles across and flies far from Earth in an elliptical orbit around the sun, between Mars and Jupiter.
   "It will outlast me," Mr. Kroemer said.

*: Freimut Börngen is a former staff member and now a permanent scientific guest at the Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg.

**: Remark of TLS webmaster