Robert Waland

Robert Waland (1908 - 1999) Optical Engineer and Astronomer. Robert Waland was born in Dumfries in 1908 and educated at Dumfries Academy. He went on to international acclaim in the field of optical engineering. His work on telescopes at the University of Arizona at Tucson enabled astronomers to compile an atlas of the moon surface that was used by the first astronauts to land on the moon in 1969.

Aged only nineteen his self taught skill and knowledge enabled him to construct a Solar-Camera telescope in order to witness the total solar eclipse of 1927,

In June 1927 I made a 7ft 6 inch focus Solar-Camera at Glencaple to photograph the total eclipse of the sun on the 29th at 6.24am. I cycled to Richmond in Yorkshire, which lay in the belt of totality, accompanied by my two brothers. I carried the camera. It required quite an effort to mount the bicycle and stay on it let alone cycle the 150 miles! We were up at 3 am that morning and duly orientated the camera in readiness for the exposures but were defeated by clouds at the critical moment. Several successful photographs of the sun's disc were however obtained before and after totality

Two years later Robert Waland completed a domed observatory in his garden at Glencaple, near Dumfries. It housed a 10 inch reflecting telescope. Over the following decade, he designed a 6 inch refracting telescope which incorporated cameras for photographing the stars. It took 17,000 hours of his spare time to make and was completed in 1945 by which time he had moved into Dumfries.

A chance encounter with Professor Erwin Finlay-Freundlich who was on a visit to Dumfries led to Robert Waland's appointment as Head Technician at the Department of Astronomy at St Andrews University. He remained there for 17 years working on an 18 inch then a 37 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope research project.

In 1950, Robert Waland undertook a study trip to the United States to examine telescope design. He returned there in 1962 as Research Associate and Chief Optician at the Lunar and Planetary Department of the University of Arizona at Tucson. He worked on a 61 inch reflecting telescope which was completed in 1965. It enabled astronomers to compile an atlas of the moon surface which was used by the first astronauts to land on the moon in 1969. He continued his research, working on a 70 inch telescope for asteroid observation.

Robert Waland retired from the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona in 1980. He returned to St Andrews to work on his book, "Optics of the Cassegrain Telescope". This book sums up his years in optical engineering. He describes the design process of telescopes, including the grinding, polishing and handling of the mirror itself. It was published in 1990.

He finally returned to Dumfries where he spent the last years of his life. In 1998 a modern 9.25 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Reflecting Telescope was added to the collection at Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. The selection was made under the guidance of Robert Waland whose generosity made the purchase possible. He died in the following year.

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