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Albert Linnell also became department's first chairman

  • Published: 04/10/2017

Dr. Albert Paul Linnell turned his lifelong passion for the stars to start MSU's Astronomy Department.

He passed away on Jan. 20, 2017 in Seattle. His lifelong study of binary star systems led him to found the Astronomy Department at Michigan State University and became its first chairman. 

He attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1944 with bachelor’s degrees in physics, mathematics and chemistry. Having completed his studies in 1943, and with World War II raging, Albert enlisted in the United States Army that summer.

He received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Signal Corps and served in the Philippines from 1945 to 1946, where he was promoted to First Lieutenant.  Thereafter, he attended Harvard University, where he obtained a PhD in Astronomy. As a graduate student, his first publication, “UX Ursae Majoris”, was the discovery paper of systems now called Cataclysmic Variables.  His study of a cataclysmic variable star system led Albert to a lifelong study of binary star systems.

In 1966, Dr. Linnell founded the Astronomy/Astrophysics Department at Michigan State University in East Lansing and became the first Chairman.  During his twenty-five year tenure, he mentored many graduate students, led the team that designed and built the MSU Campus Observatory, and pursued his specialty of modeling binary star systems. He developed the BINSYN binary star simulation package. After retiring in 1991, Professor Emeritus Linnell moved to Seattle, Washington. He was granted Visiting Scholar status with support from the  University of Washington and continued to study Cataclysmic Variable stars. His studies included extensive collaboration with fellow astronomer, Ivan Hubeny. Albert was a visiting professor in Prague while in his 80's.

He published extensively in the Astronomical Journal and the Astrophysical Journal up to the age of 91. In honor of his prolific contributions for a period exceeding 50 years, Dr, Linnell was awarded the prestigious Inspec Ruby Author award in 2008. Albert became a Fellow of AAAS in 1991, is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in Frontiers of Science and Technology, Men of Achievement, American Men of Science, and Directory of Distinguished Americans.

Albert married his college sweetheart, Jane Elliott, in 1944.  They had five children. Jane died in 1991. In 1993, Albert married Ann Kremer, a fellow professor at Michigan State University. Their union at Kalaloch, WA  was one that the extended Linnell and Kremer families heartily approved.  Al and Ann lived in the Laurelhurst section of Seattle until 2009, when they moved to Horizon House in downtown Seattle. They were long supporters of the Seattle Opera.

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