March 24, 2004
Janet Akyüz Mattei, age 61, died on Tuesday, March 22, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, after battling an acute form of leukemia.
She was an internationally recognized astronomer whose specialty was the field of variable stars, stars that, either predictably or unpredictably, change in brightness. She was particularly fond of eruptive, or cataclysmic, stars and slowly pulsating, long-period variables.
Since 1973, she had been the director and scientific representative of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), a non-profit scientific and educational organization founded in 1911. Its main purpose is the collection and dissemination of observations and analyses of variable stars, and coordination of professional and amateur astronomer involvement toward this effort. Her primary responsibility was quality control of the AAVSO database, which is the world's largest set of optical observations of variable stars. It contains more than 10 million observations, most of which were contributed by amateur observers around the world. She has provided AAVSO observations to over 700 research projects so that optical data could be correlated to observations at other wavelengths.
Mattei was a native of Turkey and came to the United States under the Wien International Scholarship Program of Brandeis University in 1962. She received a B.A. in general science (physics) at Brandeis, a M.S. in astronomy at Ege University in Turkey and also at the University of Virginia, and completed her doctorate degree at Ege University in 1982. Mattei published over 180 papers on variable stars and related topics, mostly in refereed journals.
She provided guidance in setting up over 200 observing programs in schools and for student science projects. She played a key role in getting amateur astronomers observing time on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and, from 1986 to 1995, helped select those amateurs.
Her many honors included the Jackson-Gwilte medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1995), the Leslie Peltier Award of the Astronomical League (1993), the American Astronomical Society's George Van Biesbroeck Award (1993), the first Giovanni Battista Lacchini Award of the Unione Astrofili Italiana (1995), and the Centennial Medal for leadership in variable stars from the Societé Astronomique de France (1987). Minor planet 11695 Mattei was named for her in 2001.
"The AAVSO has lost a strong leader who has guided our organization to greatness," wrote cardiologist and amateur astronomer Mario Motta in an e-mail message delivering the news. "Amateur astronomers the world over have lost a mentor who bridged the world of amateurs and professionals. I, along with many others the world over who knew her well, have lost a dear friend who will be deeply missed."