Staff Volunteers

Our programs wouldn't happen each year without the contributions of many volunteers. Some of us staff the program 24/7, while others pop in and out as needed, night to night or year to year. The thread that binds us is our love for Mount Wilson Observatory - its science and its history.

Director and "dark side" instructor

Paula Turner 

Paula is a professor of physics at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Her PhD research involved near infrared imaging of merging galaxy systems, using infrared radiation to probe the merger-induced star formation in the centers of these systems. At Kenyon, Paula teaches courses ranging from "Astro 101" to senior-level experimental physics. She is also the director of the Franklin Miller Observatory on Kenyon's campus.

Solar instructor

John Varsik

John Varsik, Ph. D, Astronomy, is a Research Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is based at the Big Bear Solar Observatory on Big Bear Lake. He is part of the team building and operating the observatory's New Solar Telescope, the largest aperture solar telescope in the world. He has also served as a Research Associate at the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. 

Local volunteers

Mike Simmons

Founding president of the Mount Wilson Observatory Association, Mike also founded and currently leads Astronomers Without Borders, which keeps him busy traveling and sharing astronomy experiences with amateurs and professionals around the world. With a particular interest in the history of the observatory, Mike has written several articles on various historical topics and often lectures on the observatory's early days. A long-time amateur astronomer, Mike is also a past president of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society.

Tom Meneghini
Tom has been interested in astronomy since watching Earth's first artificial satellite, Sputnik, pass overhead as a child. He is active in Mount Wilson Observatory's public education and outreach programs and currently serves as Acting Director of the Mount Wilson Institute, which manages the observatory. His favorite job, though, is operating telescopes, from the 16-inch Meade telescope used by our programs to the 60- and 100-inch telescopes on which the observatory's history was founded.

John Hoot

John, a computer and electrical engineer by training, is the founder and president of a software business that specializes in digital image processing and communications. John is also an experienced astronomer, operating multiple computer-controlled observatories of his own design, in sites ranging from southern California to the Atacama desert in Chile. He is also the designer of several commercial astronomical CCD cameras, autoguiders, telescope control systems, weather satellite telemetry decoders, and image processing products.

Bob Buchheim

Bob has been an avid amateur astronomer for over 30 years. His particular joys are introducing children to the night sky and encouraging other amateurs to participate in small-telescope research projects. His book, "The Sky Is Your Laboratory," a manual for the research-oriented amateur astronomer, is a result of his enthusiastically promoting amateur astronomical research. Bob is an experienced visual observer, CCD photometrist, and telescope maker, as well. He has published several research papers in peer-reviewed journals on asteroids, variable stars, and double-star astrometry, presented papers at a number of astronomy conferences, and gives presentations at amateur astronomy clubs.

Sara Martin

Principal investigator for the non-profit scientific organization Helioresearch (, Sara Martin uses H-alpha observations to study the dynamic behavior of solar prominences and filaments. Using tunable H-alpha filters, she records time series images showing Doppler motion of the emitting gas in prominences and filaments from which the time evolution of the magnetic field supporting the gas can be deduced.

Don Nicholson

Don was raised in Padasena and Altadena, son of Mount Wilson solar astronomer Seth Nicholson. He grew up making frequent visits to Mount Wilson, including at least one night serving in his father's place as the observer on the 100-inch telescope. Since his retirement from a career as an optical engineer, he has returned to his association with the Observatory, serving as the Associate Deputy Director for External Affairs of the Mount Wilson Institute. His personal knowledge of the Observatory's history and accomplishments is rich and deep, and he graciously shares it with visitors and program participants.