Alumni Services

Chris Impey

Edinburgh-born Chris Impey has an infectious enthusiasm for his hometown, despite spending much of his life in the USA. And his enthusiasm for astronomy has proved equally infectious for his many audiences.

Name Chris Impey
Degree Course PhD in Astronomy
Year of Graduation


Chris Impey

Your time at the University

I was born in Edinburgh, but my family moved around a lot and I spent most of my childhood in the USA, so in a sense I was returning home. I had studied physics at Imperial College in London and was drawn to astronomy at Edinburgh. At the time, the Royal Observatory and the Astronomy Department were running a small telescope in Australia and pioneering a new telescope in Hawaii, so I got to escape the long winters for adventures Down Under and on tropical beaches.

I enjoyed my three years working on Blackford Hill. It was, and still is, a bracing hike up to the top. I had family in town so I didn’t always have to suffer my own cooking. It was also the time when the Festival Fringe was still fairly cheap, so I recall days when I’d see five or six shows in one day, often ending up on a hard bench in a bus station for the final late night revue. Then there was skiing at Hillend, lots of hikes in the Pentlands and the Borders, and sailing with one of the Observatory staff who kept a boat always ready for a jaunt. I was also Treasurer of the Royal Osbservatory of Edinburgh Social Club, which involved a lot of pub lunches for planning, and epic treasure hunts around the Edinburgh area. The time flew by, and I was sad to leave, but not too sad, because my postdoctoral studies were in Hawaii.

The University of Edinburgh was the foundation stone of my career, giving me a taste of research and joy of discovering something new about the universe.

Dr Chris Impey

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

I stayed in the field of astronomy, following the path that was set by my time in Edinburgh. After postdoctoral research in Hawaii and at Caltech, I got a faculty job at the University of Arizona, where I’ve been ever since. I’m now a University Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Science, fancy titles which can’t disguise the fact that I still love looking through a telescope and enjoy a dark sky far from city lights.

While I continued to do research, I also learned to be a good teacher, and now some of my research is on how students learn and what the best methods are for teaching science. I also write books for the general public on astronomy and related topics. I give 20-25 public talks a year, and communicating science to broad audiences has become one of my passions. The University of Edinburgh was the foundation stone of my career, giving me a taste of research and joy of discovering something new about the universe. I go back every year or so, to see friends and family and visit old haunts. My wife is an artist who hasn’t been to Edinburgh for 30 years so I look forward to seeing my hometown through her eyes some time soon. I don’t even mind trekking up Blackford Hill, as long as there’s not snow on the ground.

Alumni wisdom

Study hard and play hard - there will be plenty of time to worry about career and building a life. Enjoy learning and soaking in one of the finest cities I know.

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