'The Man from the Oscars'
Born: 1st February 1879, Paris France
Died: 6th February 1956, Washington DC, USA
The French optician and astronomer, Henri Chretien holds the unique honour of being the only scientist to have been awarded a Hollywood 'Oscar' from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. It was his collaboration with the American astronomer, George Willis Ritchey, that led to the optical design which now bears their name and which is the basis of almost all of today’s new breed of ‘super telescopes’.
In 1910 in collaboration with George Willis Ritchey (18864-1945), an astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory, they designed the now famous Ritchey-Chretien optical system affectionately known as the RC. However it would be a further seventeen years before even a small prototype of their design was completed - not in America, but in Paris, France. It was a modest affair with a primary mirror of only 19.9-inch (50cm) aperture and a ‘fast’ focal ratio of f6.8.
Testing of the first RC resulted in a mediocre performance due to an unstable mount and the poor 'seeing' of the Parisian suburbs. The quality of the images obtained were disappointing, which was not surprising given that an RC optical design only performs best when used with an accurate motor driven mount under a clear and transparent sky.
In 1954 Henri Chretien received a ‘Merit’ Oscar along with Earl Sponable, Sol Halperin, Lorin Grignon, Herbert Gragg, Carlton and W. Faulkner - all names now long forgotten: ‘For creating, developing and engineering the equipment, processes and techniques known as [20th Century Fox's] CinemaScope.’ The award was also shared with Fred Waller: ‘For designing and developing the multiple photographic and projection systems which culminated in Cinerama.’
He was the only astronomer ever to have received such an award.
To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Henri Chretien or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.
The First 'Ritchey-Chretien' Telescope, 19.9-inch aperture, c1930: Photograph courtesy of the Henri Chretien Archives
Buy the complete eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop