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Astronomy Professor Kevin Prendergast Dies at 75

Kevin Prendergast, long-time professor of astronomy at Columbia , died Sept. 8, at the age of 75, after a long struggle with lung cancer.

Prendergast received his Ph.D. at Columbia in 1954 and then went to the University of Chicago, returning to Columbia as a professor in 1962. He chaired the Columbia astronomy department from 1978 to 1984, retiring in 2000 with a long trail of successful young theorists in his wake. Prendergast was an icon in the field of dynamics of many-body systems. He also was well known for a series of papers in the 1960s and 1970s, written with Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, on understanding the rotation curves of galaxies. Numerous theoretical studies of the structure of galaxies followed, and he was a pioneer in the study of X-ray binary systems. In addition to Prendergast's professional accomplishments, he was also a skilled pianist and an avid sailor.

During his long career, Prendergast became famous for using yellow legal pads, on which he had scrawled analyses of many problems in astronomical dynamics. His classes were renowned for the exactitude of his standards and the high percentage of faculty in attendance. During one year, regularly attending faculty outnumbered students.

Prendergast is survived by his wife, Jane, and daughters Laura and Kathy.

Published: Oct 18, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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