The Early Years
I am glad that you are taking a bit of your time to find out a little more about me. My name is David Kolb and I currently live in Lawrence, Kansas. I was born and raised in Michigan and lived in the state of Washington for four years before moving to Kansas. My interest in astronomy began when I was a child. I remember the first telescope that my parents gave me as a Christmas present when I must have been nine years old. It was one of the toy reflecting telescopes with an aperture of about 1.5 inches but I enjoyed looking at the Moon with it. As I grew older my Uncle John, who taught physics and astronomy at Windsor University, fueled my interest. When we would visit during the holidays my Uncle would get a 3.5 inch Questar out. To me that was the most fantastic telescope that I ever saw. My uncle also had an 8 inch mirror that he had ground and polished. The idea of making a telescope from scratch got me hooked. When I was in middle school my folks gave me a larger telescope, a 3 inch reflector on an alt-azimuth mount. With this telescope I was able to show my folks the planets and brighter deep sky objects. When I was in high school my folks decided that we would build our own house. As part of the agreement with the bank on the mortgage my parents had to pay someone to help build the house. The hired help turned out to be my older brother and me. We started the construction in the summer of 1974 and my weekly pay was $50. Some of that I saved toward a 6 inch Newtonian that I constructed from parts that I purchased. The optical tube assembly was a kit that University Optics carried at the time, and the mount was from Pacific Instruments (no longer in business). During my last year in high school I decided to build my own mount, while I was taking a machine shop class at a local community college. The mount was fairly simple in design but very sturdy and heavy. Several parts of it were cast out of aluminum in a foundry that I had set up in the back yard. Just about every kind of aluminum scrap went into those castings. The Right Ascension and Declination shafts were machined from an axle that came out of my Dad's 1969 Buick. The tripod legs came from oak planks that my Grandfather milled from trees that were felled to make room for his house on Little Bass Lake near Lakeview Michigan. Today, the mount holds an 8 inch f/4 reflector that I assembled from parts while I was in college in the late 1970's. These two telescopes can be seen on my equipment page.
During the last year in high school and the first year or two in college I became interested in astrophotography. My first attempts were with the moon using a homemade sheet film camera, using 3 1/4 by 4 1/4 inch sheet film, attached to my 6" Newtonian. The results were not very good but I was not dismayed. During my first year in college I made use of the 8 inch Celestron and the Nikon 35mm camera that the Central Michigan University Observatory had. I probably spent too much time engaged in astrophotography as my grades reflected it. During my second year in college I bought my first 35mm camera, an Olympus OM1, which I still use today. After my second year in college got more serious in my studies and astrophotography took a back seat. From time to time I would get my camera out for events like eclipses.
My interest in astrophotography waned until 2003 when I purchased my Meade LXD55 8" SCT. My first attempts using the 8 inch SCT were with my 35mm Olympus targeting the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter. I was able to achieve better results on Jupiter and Saturn than I had achieved while in college. Picking up a used Varimagni Finder for my OM1 helped a lot in getting a better focus. During the summer of 2004 I began taking pictures of Mars in anticipation of the upcoming opposition in August. The results with Mars were disappointing. At about the same time I read an article in Sky and Telescope magazine about using a Web camera for planetary imaging. I went out and purchased a ToUcam XS, not knowing at the time that it was a CMOS camera. The results with the Moon and sunspots looked very promising, but when I tried Mars I found out that the ToUcam XS was not suitable. I then managed to find a ToUcam Pro. The first results with the new camera were better than anything I had ever imagined. As I gained more experience I could make out details on Mars as fine as Olympus Mons! In October of 2003 I began targeting Jupiter and Saturn using the Web camera. The results were absolutely astounding. On Christmas eve of 2003 I managed to achieve my best images of Jupiter up to that point. I was able to record a sequence of the Great Red Spot's motion as the planets rotation carried it across the face of the planet. Since then I have learned that the factors necessary for high resolution planetary images are: good seeing, critical focus, and proper collimation. To catch nights of good seeing I use Clear Sky Clock, a web site that gives astronomical oriented weather forecasts for many North American locations. For achieving critical focus I use a motorized focuser and always refocus between each image sequence. The last factor, collimation, was something that I tended to ignore. During September of 2005 I noticed that my Mars images looked horrible. It turned out that the collimation, which had been pretty good right out of the box had gotten fairly far off after a trip to Michigan with the scope. After re-collimating on a star the Mars images looked great. The problem with collimating on a star is that valuable observing time is wasted. To solve this problem I built an artificial star, which allows me to collimate in my garage or in the back yard on cloudy nights.
Graduate School - Washington State University (1982-1986)
After obtaining my bachelors degree in physics from Central Michigan University I attended Washington State University in Pullman, WA. While I was there I earned a masters degree in applied physics with an emphasis in astronomy. My adviser during that time was Dr. Julie Lutz, who is currently at the University of Washington. My thesis was titled "Dust Distances to Planetary Nebulae". While working on my degree I supported myself as a graduate teaching assistant. During the first year I taught introductory physics labs. During the next two years I was one of the astronomy teaching assistants. My duties included grading papers, conducting review sessions, giving planetarium shows and running the observatory. The planetarium consisted of an old Spitz model A-3-P projector and the observatory housed a 12 inch Alvan Clark refractor. During my last year I worked in the Shock Dynamics Lab as a technician. This was a very interesting place to work. Very few places do high-pressure research using large gas powered guns. One of the guns is 50 feet long with a 105mm bore. Here are a few pictures of the facility during that time period.
During the summers in Pullman I had a lot of spare time to pursue photography in general. I concentrated on the scenery that was available around the Pullman area. I also tinkered a bit with high speed photography.
In the following images I tried my hand with high speed photography by shooting water balloons with an air pistol. The balloons were suspended from the ceiling by a string and a box filled with material to stop the pellets and covered with a black cloth was placed behind the balloon. A stroboscope with a manual release button was placed off to the left of the balloon. The stroboscope that I used had a flash duration of about 1/100,000 sec. The camera was a 120 film format Bronica setting on a pier with a cable release and the shutter was set to the bulb setting. A friend of mine assisted me by turning out the lights. After the lights were out I opened and locked the shutter. In my left hand I held the manual strobe release and in my right hand I held the air pistol. I would pull the trigger on the pistol and then follow with the strobe release. During the brief flash of the strobe I could tell if I hit the balloon or not. I would close the camera shutter and then set up another balloon. After about a dozen or so water balloons I managed to capture a few in the process of breaking.
Astronomy Instructor - Kansas City Kansas Community College
From 1994 to 2008 I was an astronomy instructor at Kansas City Kansas Community College on a part-time basis. The first semester that I taught the class was right after comet Shoemaker-Levy crashed into Jupiter. Interest in Astronomy was probably at a near all time high and the enrollment was the largest that I had ever seen in the 14 years that I taught this class. Most of the individuals that enrolled in my class werte trying to complete the science requirements for their degree. Occasionally, I had students that were truly interested in astronomy. I found that most of the students that I encountered were very math phobic. Astronomy is far more than learning to identify stars and constellations, it can be a very mathematical science. In my lectures I tried to keep mathematics to an absolute minimum but in the labs I couldn't avoid it. On the other hand, I found that most of my students were in the over 30 age group, and these students were generally more committed to their studies than younger students.