Donald D. Clayton

Here you'll find answers to the most pregnant questions about my autobiography.

Q: What inspires your title, Catch a Falling Star?
A: Significant word links to my career: catch 1. to grasp in a state of motion 2. to record an event as it is happening 3. to become infected by 4. n an unanticipated complication; catch on to glimpse significance, to understand; falling 1. in motion attracted toward the earth 2. in motion collapsing upon itself; star 1. a self-luminous astronomical body, shining through darkness 2. adj being of outstanding excellence, as in a star player 3. an outstandingly talented performer.

Q: What makes your career special?
A: 1. Being a pioneer of human knowledge. My life has centered on understanding the natural creation of the atoms of the chemical elements. What were for me small struggling steps became big steps for all mankind: 2. My conceiving of two new types of astronomy that today provide original evidence about the events of creation. First was my laying out the prospects for gamma-ray astronomy of radioactivity that is created by collapsing stars; second was my identifying solid pieces of long-dead stars that fall to earth encrusted within meteorites. Those tiny chunks of long gone stars are now called stardust.

Q: How do you feel able to write a biography?
A: In the first place I love the written word. I enjoy finding fresh words and crafting them into strong ideas. My other books and even my research works reveal that affection. Secondly, I researched my own life for more than a decade before beginning this project. Rather than naively relying on what I remember, I have used extensive historical sources. These include my daily diaries and those of my mother, a vast collection of photographs with researched captions, my collected letters, and study of my writings in historic context. I have done what any expert biographer would do to capture a meaningful life. These sources empower me to rise above the subjective collection of self-supporting tales that we all love to share.

Q: What endows your life with relevance to people?
A:  My beginnings were a portion of quintessential American history from the farming meltingpot of the nineteenth-century midwestern United States. My story is the American story during that heroic epoch of European assimilation. From my life I share my human problems. I developed a debilitating sense of loss at an early age, but discovered optimism and curiosity that impelled me forward. I sought love rashly and naively throughout my life, but discovered it only in my third marriage. I fought an obsequiuous tendency to strive to please important colleagues, but discovered in my scientific battles with them the transforming power to assert myself and to think outside the box. These fundamental human issues make my life relevant.

Q: Was your career made possible by specific people?
A:  Yes. The specialized career on the frontier of knowledge that I have enjoyed would have been unthinkable without the assistance of two "angels". Professor Frank McDonald at SMU persuaded me to become a phyics major, created a job teaching labs to help me afford it, and later persuaded me to apply for graduate school at Caltech when it never would have even occured to me. At Caltech Professor William A. Fowler, later a 1983 Nobel Prize winner, agreed to guide me in my beginning research efforts. Becoming his protoge opened many doors to my life in nuclear astrophysics. He encouraged me to understand the universe deeply and to glimpse new unknown facts exposed by my research. Both experiences were prerequisites to my lifetime exploring the origin of the atoms of the chemical elements.