Astronomer Named Director of RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science




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An astronomer from the Space Telescope Institute (STScI), is the new director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

Stefi Baum will join RIT in July after 13 years at STScI, the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope and the next generation space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Baum earned a B.A. in physics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on the study of activity in galaxies and its relation to galaxy evolution. She has published 130 papers on her research.

While at STScI, Baum was the division head of the engineering and software services, and in charge of close to 140 scientists, engineers and computer scientists. She was responsible for the development and maintenance work for ground systems of the Hubble telescope and work for JWST. Earlier, she led the science operations center development and deployment of a major astronomical instrument, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. Prior to that, she was lead scientist on the development of the Hubble Space Telescope archive, the first real functional archive pipeline for astronomical data.

Most recently, Baum completed a diplomacy fellowship program through the U.S. Department of State and American Institute of Physics while on a leave of absence from STScI. Branching out from astronomy, her work there promoted agriculture-biotechnology in developing and developed countries.

Baum brings to CIS an appreciation of the synergy between engineering and sciences that she learned at STScI and facilitating and consensus-building skills she refined as a diplomacy fellow.

“The center, for me, is the place where a number of different technical and scientific pursuits that contribute to or rely on imaging—from astronomy to biomedical imaging to remote sensing to color science to visual perception—come together in a way where these related disciplines benefit from each other,” Baum says. “I’m thrilled to be involved with all aspects of CIS.”

Ensuring the smooth operation of the center is one of Baum’s objectives. She is committed to making sure CIS provides “an environment where research is unencumbered and where people doing the teaching and researching can concentrate on their core mission and activities of education and pushing back the frontier of knowledge.”

Baum is eager to explore the breadth of imaging science and all it encompasses through partnerships with local and global industry. Exploring academic partnerships on campus—opening up CIS to the rest of the university for active collaboration—is also a prime objective for her. Part of that will include educating others about the somewhat mysterious name, “imaging science.”

“In an interdisciplinary field like this, you are constantly challenged by the need to inform the faculty, students and public what is meant by imaging science, to show them that it is a field that encompasses many topics they already know about, are engaged in and benefit from.”

Baum and her husband, Chris O’Dea, who has joined RIT’s physics department, reside in Pittsford, N.Y., with their four children, Connor, Kieran, Brennan and Annelies, and their pet family of three dogs, two cats and a hedgehog. The Baum-O’Dea clan is an active family that enjoys traveling together on trips inside and outside the United States. When not busy with her family, Baum uses her spare time to indulge her passion for gardening, which she calls her “one true hobby.”