About Me

 
 

COLLEGE AND CAREER

        In college at Bradley University, I received my B.S. degree in Science Communications, a self-designed major that combined courses in physics, astronomy and other natural sciences with those in journalism, technical writing and public relations. After graduation, I accepted a curatorial position with Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Illinois, where I managed their permanent science exhibits, gave public presentations in the planetarium and taught astronomy classes using the resources of the Lakeview Planetarium and the Peoria Astronomical Society's Northmoor and Jubilee Observatories.

        After three years at Lakeview Museum, I left to accept a position at the Cernan Earth and Space Center on the campus of Triton College in west suburban Chicago. A year and a half later, I was promoted to the position of Director, where I currently supervise a staff of 12, establish long-range goals and policies, manage the budget and departmental expenditures, oversee the production of all educational programs and materials, and produce and manage the Cernan Center's website. In 1993, I received my M.A. degree from DePaul University's School for New Learning in Museum Management and Education.

        The focus of my career in the planetarium and museum environment has always been to make science (especially astronomy) exciting for people of all ages. By doing this, I hope to inspire young people to follow my path toward a lifetime appreciation of the exciting world of science and knowledge.


MY INTEREST IN ASTRONOMY

        I have always had an interest in the world around me and the stars above me. Through the efforts of my parents and teachers, coupled with my own frequent use of home encyclopedias, I not only learned the basics of science but, more importantly, I learned to appreciate the beauty of nature and the excitement that comes with unlocking its many mysteries.
        As a child, I had more than a passing interest in astronomy. My first "telescope" was the telescopic sight of a toy gun, which I used it to look at stars from my bedroom window, despite the fact that they didn't really look any different. Upon graduation from 8th grade, my parents bought me a small refracting telescope which propelled my interests in the direction of the stars! Though quite small, my first telescope still provided me the opportunity to "discover" the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the hazy glow from a galaxy over two million light years away! By becoming a member of the Peoria Astronomical Society, I met many veteran stargazers who further supported my fledgling interest in the sky. Within a few years, I was conducting my own amateur observing projects (especially the timing of lunar occultations) and sending my results to offices as far away as Greenwich (England), Washington, D.C. and Tokyo.
        Now living in the western suburbs of Chicago, I currently observe with three telescopes -- a 3.5-inch Questar, a Coronado MaxScope 40 solar telescope (double stacked) and a 10-inch f/4.5 Newtonian Reflector on a German Equatorial Mount. I ground my own mirror for the last instrument, under the tutelage of telescope maker Dan Joyce. My primary observing interests are the planets (particularly Jupiter and Saturn), lunar occultations, solar astronomy and eclipses. On those rare occasions when I can escape the light pollution of metropolitan Chicago, I also enjoy deep sky observing.

        In January of 2008, astronomer Bert Stevens informed me that he was recommending that Minor Planet 128065, which he discovered from his Desert Moon Observatory in July of 2003, be renamed (128065) Bartbenjamin in honor of my many years of “making astronomy exciting for the public.” The photograph below is that asteroid’s discovery image. In March of 2008, The Minor Planet Center, which serves as the world clearinghouse for minor planet discoveries, announced that his had become official. More inform
ation about this asteroid, along with Bert’s citation near the bottom of the page, can be found here. Minor planet (128065) Bartbenjamin is probably between 1.9 and 2.6 kilometers (1.2 to 1.6 miles) in size, irregularly shaped, and made of carbon-based rock.

        Stevens’ self-proclaimed mission in life is to discover minor planets and “help protect the Earth from celestial impacts.” Since his volunteer observations began in 2001, this former Chicagoan who now resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico has reported thousands of minor planet and Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) observations, the latter of which could potentially warn Earthlings of impending disaster from the skies. Only through advanced photographic techniques, large amateur-sized telescopes, dark skies, and incredible patience can such small and distant objects be discovered.


MY INTEREST IN CIVIL WAR HISTORY

        Although the seeds of my interest in America's Civil War were no doubt planted during my childhood, they did not blossom until I watched Ken Burns' widely acclaimed television series, The Civil War on PBS. This wonderful series was a transformation for me, and it breathed life into an interest I didn't even know I had.

        I immediately sought to learn more about this fascinating era of American history. I soon discovered (with help from my aunt and uncle, the family genealogists) that I had several ancestors who fought for the Union army during the war. Specifically, I am a descendant of:


Private Samuel Kirkman (Company K, 77th Illinois Volunteer Infantry)
Private Job Benjamin (Company C, 76th OhioVolunteer Infantry)
Private Wilson Benjamin (Company D, 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry)


        Thus began the research project that led to my Three Soldiers of Valor book. When I completed my 182-page work in 1992, I thought it would only be read by family members and a few close friends. But with the advent and growth of the Internet, I soon realized that I could "publish" my work and make its contents available to others who may be interested in reading it. Better still, I could easily update an online version of my work, and thereby incorporate new discoveries into my work in a manner that would prove cumbersome to update in a hard-copy version. In early 2002, I completed the first major online revision of my book.
        While researching the Civil War record of one of my ancestors, one major source of information was History of the 77th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which
was published in 1883. Since the book is long out of print and is now difficult to find, I decided to provide an additional service to Civil War researchers by digitizing this book and making it available on the Internet. By doing so, I could help other people research particular Civil War battles, trace certain Union regiments or gain a first-hand appreciation for the day-to-day life of a Union soldier.

        By creating these websites, I hope to find Civil War scholars and amateur researchers like myself who are willing to share information and add to our collective knowledge of Civil War history. My "best case scenario" would be to find someone who has in their possession letter and/or diaries written by civil war soldiers affiliated with my own ancestors, particularly the 77th Illinois, 76th Ohio or 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantries. I would appreciate the opportunity to incorporate these new documents into my evolving work.


ONE FOR ALL

        In the spring of 2007, after purchasing a Trek 7500 hybrid bicycle, I began riding local streets and bicycle paths near my home in west suburban Chicago. As I pedaled along tree-lined streets, crushed limestone paths, and fields of prairie grass, a realization came to me -- that my new-found enthusiasm for cycling could not only satisfy my recreational needs, but could directly tie-in with my own charitable giving to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. In the manner of a charity bicycle ride, I could support people whose lives have been affected by cancer without necessarily having to join or organize such a ride. Instead, I could design my own "one man charity ride" that could be structured however I wished. I called my initiative One for All, its name reflecting the ideal that one person can "make a difference" in a way that can benefit all mankind. On July 17, 2007, One for All was approved by the Lance Armstrong Foundation as an official grassroots fundraising initiative.

        Today, I cycle for those people in my life who have been touched by cancer, most notably my parents. One for All has evolved into my second (albeit unpaid) career.

           For more information, please visit my One For All webpage.