Roger A. Bell, astronomy professor

Roger Alistair Bell, a University of Maryland professor of astronomy who specialized in the discovery of physical properties and compositions of stars, died July 1 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at the Dove House in Westminster. The Ashton resident was 76.

Dr. Bell was born in Surrey, England. He earned a bachelor's degree in science from the University of Melbourne in Australia in 1957 and a doctorate from Australian National University in 1961.

Dr. Bell and his wife, Sylvia, came to the United States in 1963. They were married three years earlier and attended an astronomy conference in Holland as part of their honeymoon. There, Dr. Bell met Gart Westerhout, the first director of the University of Maryland's astronomy program, who invited Dr. Bell to join the College Park program.

Dr. Bell began his career at Maryland in 1963, first as an assistant professor, becoming an associate professor inl 1969. He was named a full professor in 1976 and served until his retirement in 1998, when he became a professor emeritus.

Dr. Bell wrote or collaborated on more than 200 scientific papers and received more than $2 million in grant funding from such organizations as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation.

"He played a major role in elevating the astronomy program in the department of physics into a separate, full-fledged department of astronomy, and served as director of the program just before this transition, leading the transition," said Stuart Vogel, professor and chair of the University of Maryland's department of astronomy.

While working as a spectroscopist at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia, Dr. Bell worked with Alexander Rogers to study various types of stars, including some hundreds of times bigger than the sun. He also studied cepheids, stars with fluctuating luminosity. He probed the temperatures of stars as well as their sizes, chemical compositions and radiation emissions.

"Some 40 years ago, Roger was one of the first astronomers to recognize the importance of curious chemical signatures among our galaxy's oldest star clusters," said Michael M. Briley, professor and chair of the department of physics and astronomy at Appalachian State University.

"His work in this area has led to a better understanding of how galaxies form, how lower-mass stars evolve and how some of the elements we see around us today came to be."

James Hesser, director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory at Canada's National Research Council, said that as a pioneer, Dr. Bell "solved many problems in a very original way. But at the same time, he was a really very enjoyable person to work with. He liked what he did very, very much. He worked hard at it, he was anxious to share his knowledge and work with others who were interested in understanding these aspects of the universe."

Dr. Bell's father was an engineer who was involved in the development of the Spitfire fighter aircraft. "Roger was always proud of that," Sylvia Bell said.

She added: "He was interested in photography, which came from his job. One of his photographs of stellar spectra was used in textbooks for a number of years. One of his main hobbies was woodworking. He used to like to make furniture and toys for the grandchildren."

A memorial service will be held in the West Chapel of the University of Maryland, College Park at 3 p.m. Aug. 19.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Bell is survived by sons Alistair Bell of Ashton and Andrew Bell of Laurel; his brother, Trevor Bell of Melbourne; and four grandchildren.

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