Emeritus Professor, The University of Arizona
Neville (Nick) Woolf was trained in physics, optics and astronomy. He was a postdoc at Radcliffe Observatory. After, at Lick Observatory, he began exploration of what happened to the matter of dying stars that became a major theme of his work. At Princeton, he made balloon observations of cool stars in the infrared, which showed their huge water absorption bands. He was briefly at NASA Institute for Space Studies where he initiated a balloon program to make far infrared sky surveys. With this Hoffmann discovered the far infrared radiation from the galactic center. He was also briefly an associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin. Then he moved to the University of Minnesota, as director of the observatories, where he participated in the discovery of silicates in circumstellar emission, interstellar absorption and in cometary emission, and other dust emission from planetary nebulae.
He moved to the University of Arizona in 1974. Shortly after this, Preston Cloud introduced him to the concept of Earth oxygenation by microbes. He was one of 14 participants at the first extrasolar planetary detection workshop in 1976. He worked alongside Roger Angel in concept design for giant telescopes and initiated Mt. Graham as an observatory site. With Roger Angel in 1985 he proposed the first concept for detection and study of extrasolar terrestrial planets, to determine the presence or absence of spectroscopic biomarkers. Further conceptual designs for TPF followed in 1990 and 1995. He participated in the first Pale Blue Dot workshop in 1996 and was a co-author of the Terrestrial Planetfinder book. He led a University of Arizona team for the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2003-2008. He initiated the studies of Earth’s spectrum from lunar earthshine, 2002 and 2006, showing that presence of molecules, plant reflection beyond the photoejection edge, and the Rayleigh scattering of the atmosphere could all be observed. He has continued the work on the flow of molecules from old stars to the interstellar medium into new planetary systems by helping the Ziurys radio astronomy group. He is currently working on the origin of life, and understanding issues of remote life detection.