mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

In Memoriam: Paul Coleman

Maintained by RRG

For Immediate Release
12 March 2018


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Dr. Roy Gal
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Paul Coleman

Paul Coleman

Paul Coleman, an astronomer at the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy, passed away at his home on January 16th, 2018. Paul was the first Native Hawaiian with a doctorate in astrophysics. He received his BS in Physics from the University of Notre Dame, and his PhD in Physics at the University of Pittsburgh. His doctoral research focused on the sizes of distant galaxies observed at radio wavelengths, and the implications of these for cosmological models.

Paul's career took him around the world before eventually returning to his native Hawaiʻi. He spent nearly a decade in the Netherlands, where he worked on describing the large scale structure of the universe using the mathematical language of fractals, as well as on software projects for radio astronomy. He returned to the United States to teach at New Mexico Tech, Yale University, and the University of Puerto Rico, arriving at the University of Hawaiʻi in 2002.

In his 15 years with the Institute for Astronomy, Paul played a key role in our education and public outreach efforts. He spoke often - and passionately - about astronomy, its importance to Hawaiʻi, and how Hawaiians could play a major role, at local schools, science events, and other venues across the State. He led dozens of groups, including students, politicians, and members of the Hawaiian community, to visit the observatories on Maunakea and Haleakala. He was a member of many committees and councils dedicated to increasing Native Hawaiian participation in the sciences.

Paul was a tireless advocate for astronomy in Hawaiʻi. He spoke to business groups, rotary clubs, and chambers of commerce across Hawaiʻi, advocating for UH and the IfA. He testified strongly in support of major telescope projects, including the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) on Haleakala, and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea. Paul's vision was that Native Hawaiians, by engaging in the sciences and especially astronomy, would become major users of these facilities, connecting the future of astronomy with the rich history of Polynesian voyaging. He was an advisor for the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, and served on the State's Hawaiian lexicon committee, developing new Hawaiian words to keep up with advances in science.

At the IfA, Paul led our National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program for nearly a decade. This highly competitive program brings a dozen undergraduates from around the country to conduct research with IfA astronomers during the summer. He helped lead the NSF's mitigation program for the DKIST, to advance Native Hawaiian participation in STEM fields. Paul worked closely with the Faulkes Telescope North project on Haleakala, a remotely operable telescope designed to be used by students around the world. Ever year, at the annual IfA Manoa Open House, Paul shared the wonder of astronomy with local families, making hundreds of sundials to show how we can tell time by the position of the Sun.

Perhaps most importantly, Paul served as a mentor to a new generation of Native Hawaiian scientists. These include Heather Kaluna, now a professor at UH Hilo, Brittany Kamai, a researcher at Caltech, and dozens of high school and college students beginning their careers. His dedication to the Native Hawaiian community and to Native Hawaiian youth in STEM was irreplaceable and was what he most passionately advocated for.

Paul's family has set up a GoFundMe fundraiser for his daughters' education.

You can also see his obituary in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakalā and Maunakea. The Institute operates facilities on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaiʻi.