NDBA Biographical Notice

ah_marcout André HECK was born on 20 September 1946 in Jalhay (Belgium). After secondary schooling at Verviers Royal Atheneum, he entered Liege University where he obtained in 1969 a Master of Mathematics (with a thesis on the apsidal motion and internal structure of stars) and a Master of Education.

After joining Paul Ledoux's group at Liege Institute of Astrophysics as Research Fellow of the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research, he was hired the following year as Assistant Professor in Pol Swings' group, completing his training in both theoretical and observational astrophysics. In January 1973, he discovered the first comet of Haute Provence Observatory. A few months later, he detected an object close to the Sun during a total solar eclipse in Kenya. He also devoted numerous observing runs in Chile to the photometric study of variable stars.

But during all those years Heck mainly developed applications of modern statistical methodologies to astronomical data, starting with a long stay at Paris Observatory in 1971. He subsequently visited frequently this establishment as well as Strasbourg Observatory where he became the first scientific user of the Data Center (CDS), even before its official founding in 1972. He also resuscitated the Liege Astronomical Society, equipped it with an observatory, and ensured its regional and national visibility.

In 1975, Heck got his PhD with a main thesis on the application of the maximum-likelihood principle to the calibration of stellar luminosity criteria and with a secondary thesis on the statistical relationships between photometric indices and spectral classifications. In 1977, Heck joined the European Space Agency (ESA) then setting up, at Villafranca del Castillo near Madrid (Spain), an observatory for operating the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) in collaboration with NASA and UK's SERC. First in charge of scientific operations, Heck became Deputy Director of that observatory in 1980 and Acting Director in 1981-1982. In parallel to those managerial activities, he took part in numerous scientific investigations, including the compilation of an atlas of stellar reference sequences in the ultraviolet.

At the end of 1982, Heck accepted an invitation of Strasbourg Observatory where he became associated astronomer in April 1983 and tenured astronomer from 1986 on. He served as Observatory Director from 1988 to 1990. In 1985, he unanimously received a DSc ("Agrégation de l'Enseignement Supérieur Universitaire") from Liege University with a main thesis reviewing his contributions to astronomical multivariate statistics and three secondary theses respectively devoted to the irregular variable V348 Sgr, to the very slow nova RR Tel, and to a synthesis of the galactic distance determinations carried out with the algorithm he had developed. The title of his academic lesson was "The Rotation of the Galaxy". The following year, Heck was bestowed the first "Habilitation to Direct Research" granted by Strasbourg Louis Pasteur University. In parallel, and as an example of his varied centres of interest (among others for scientific public outreach), he had obtained in 1985 a degree in communication techniques.

Already before his arrival in Strasbourg, and thanks to his numerous contacts in the space research field, Heck had managed to get CDS acknowledged as a world centre of excellence, an activity he continued with total success. He kept on with investigating advanced statistical methodologies, knowledge-based systems and information mining techniques. Towards the end of the 1980s, a partial invalidity forced him to re-orient his activities. Thus, he organized in 1991 the first international colloquium on professional electronic publishing in astronomy, from which originate many of today's materializations and collaborations in the field. His editorial production is impressive with some 70 books as author or editor and more than 1400 papers, quite a few of them being directed to the public at large -- a return towards the society that he never neglected.

The advent of the new electronic media enabled making available world-wide the StarPages, a set of directories, dictionaries, databases and online services that Heck had started to compile already back in the 1970s -- their distribution being ensured by organizations such as ESA, NASA, ESO and CDS. Heck recently produced an edited book on the multinational history of Strasbourg Observatory. He launched also a novel series of volumes devoted the organizational, strategical and sociological issues in astronomy and related disciplines: the "Organizations and Strategies in Astronomy" (OSA) series to which he himself contributed with his editorials, reviews and interviews.

[H.W. Duerbeck (Vrije Univ. Brussel) NDBA 45 (2006) 4668-4669]

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