In Memory of Sandra A. Keiser

Sandy Keiser
Friday, March 24, 2017 

Sandra A. Keiser passed away the afternoon of March 17, 2017, at the age of 60. She was hired as a scientific computer programmer, with responsibilities in system management and software development support, on February 1, 1993, by then DTM Director Sean C. Solomon. She came to DTM from General Research Corporation, located in Vienna, VA, with over ten years of experience at both programming and system management.

Sandy was a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she majored in economics and English and minored in physics and mathematics. When she joined DTM in 1993, her skills included proficiency in mathematical modeling, algorithm development, and computer simulations in FORTRAN, BASIC, and C languages operating in VMS, UNIX, RDOS, and MS-DOS on DEC, IBM, Silicon Graphics, and Data General computers. She had worked on Digital VAX and Micro VAX computers and for Data General Eclipse minicomputers. She held SECRET clearance and had previously held TOP SECRET clearance.

At DTM, she completed all programming tasks with great enthusiasm. Early on, she took over management responsibility for one of the two Astronomy Image Processing systems being used at the time. She installed the IRAF Image Processing system on the Sun Sparcstation network and tutored the Astronomy staff in its use. She continued to manage all user accounts on the UNIX workstations. She was skilled in troubleshooting and solving the daily problems of managing the UNIX systems. Sandy also demonstrated a keen understanding of hardware failures. A letter dating back to 1998 from then staff scientist Francois Schweizer, commended Sandy’s “exemplary performance” in solving a hardware failure. Schweizer wrote, “…it is her kind of exemplary support that makes doing research at our Department both a success and pleasure.”

DTM astronomy group photo, October 1993. Seated (L-R): George Wetherill, Sandy Keiser, Harold Butner, Lori Herold, Alan Boss. Standing (L-R): John Graham, David Rabinowitz, Michael Acierno, Liz Myhill & David Williams (holding their son Sam), Vera Rubin, Francois Schweizer.

In 2002, Sandy’s responsibilities included evaluating, recommending, purchasing, installing, and updating software packages. She performed scientific programming, which included shell scripting and conversion algorithms for astronomical, seismological, geochemical, and general computer applications. Sandy also evaluated, recommended, purchased, installed, and maintained computer systems. She would investigate suspicious computer and email activity for evidence of viruses or hackers, and managed the Network Information System database, according to her colleague and supervisor Michael Acierno, IT manager for DTM/BBR.

Whenever someone in the DTM astronomy group had a computer-related problem, Sandy would drop whatever else she was doing and solve the problem as quickly as possible. Her devotion to solving these problems was one of the main reasons for the incredibly productive and amiable atmosphere of the DTM astronomy group. Her laughter often resonated down the hallways around the astronomy group offices.

DTM astronomy group photo, September 1997. Front Row (L-R): Stacy McGaugh, Vera Rubin, Sandy Keiser. Middle Row (L-R): Bryan Miller, Francois Schweizer, Alan Boss. Back Row (L-R): Harri Vanhala, John Graham, Ken Chick.

In 2008, Sandy’s work on installing and updating advanced hydrodynamics codes on the DTM computational clusters led her to join the team using the FLASH code to investigate the shock wave triggering and injection scenario for the formation of the solar system. In a similar vein, she worked with maintaining the ENZO code, used for studies of the formation of binary and multiple star systems. As a result of these theoretical studies, Sandy was a co-author on nearly a dozen journal articles.

In 2012, the advent of remote observing for the Carnegie Astrometric Camera (CAPSCam) exoplanet search effort meant that the bimonthly observations could be performed without traveling to the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Sandy leaped at the opportunity to become an observational astronomer, on top of all of her other responsibilities. Beginning in 2014, Sandy spent 35 long nights at DTM performing observations on the du Pont telescope that may one day help lead to the first astrometric discovery of an extrasolar planet. In addition to observing, Sandy also became the manager of the CAPSCam astrometric data analysis pipeline, spending several days after each observing run updating the analyses for all the stars that had been observed in that run. Her enthusiasm for this at times monotonous work was remarkable, indeed.

DTM Astronomy Group Photo, August 2000. Seated (L-R): Dan Kelson, Vera Rubin, Sandy Keiser, George Wetherill, Steve Desch. Standing (L-R): Rob Swaters, Harri Vanhala, Alan Boss, Ken Chick, Satoshi Inaba, John Graham, Paul Butler.

Sandy was very dedicated to her mother, Florence Evelyn Keiser, who suffered from Alzheimer's. When her mother was transferred to a home, she visited her on a daily basis for many years, until her mother passed away in 2010. Sandy is survived by her father Bernard E. Keiser, siblings Carol Stearns, Nancy Nus, Linda Temme, Paul Keiser, and nieces and nephews.

Sandy’s funeral was held at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, VA, on Friday, March 24, 2017. Twenty-seven of Sandy's co-workers from DTM were in attendance to bid farewell to their beloved colleague. A white floral wreath was sent on behalf of all her friends at DTM, as was a beautiful arrangement from Matt Scott, President of Carnegie Science, and another lovely colorful arrangement from her friends at the Geophysical Laboratory.

Written by Alan Boss and Janice Dunlap // March 24, 2017

- - - - -