300: UT astronomer provides scientific, historical knowledge

Elizabeth Hlavinka

While most 5-year-olds prefer picture books or cartoons, UT alumna Lara Eakins was fascinated by the newly discovered images of Mars, the rings of Saturn and Neptune’s moons that lined the pages of her National Geographic issues. 

Captivated by the mysteries of space, Eakins graduated with a degree in astronomy and later got a job in the department as the astronomy outreach and instructional technology director. She now hosts stargazing parties, manages the campus telescopes and fields phone calls from the general public — anything from a question about the night sky to conspiracy theories about the Apollo landing or the Mayan “Doomsday.”

“[Astronomy] was my very first class in college,” Eakins said. “It’s been 25 years since my first day, sitting in Astronomy 307 in the CPE building.”

Eakins’ background in research translates well to her lifestyle as a self-proclaimed Anglophile. Fascinated by Tudor History, Eakins created her own website in 1998, where she documents biographies, news and transcriptions related to 16th-century England. As an amateur historian, Eakins took several trips to the United Kingdom and photographed Stonehenge and the country’s royal castle.

When she returned, she began posting her photos to her website in a Picture of the Week series and has kept up with it ever since. She posted her 371st photo last week.

Eakins said the website receives frequent feedback, usually from people who use her website as a source for homework projects or other Anglophiles like herself, who are interested in what she studies.

To help enhance her website, Eakins plans to pursue a second degree or certificate program in computer science at UT in the fall semester.

“[The website] is my monster,” Eakins said. “My second life — as I call it.”

This article has been updated since its initial publication to correct the spelling of Lara Eakin's name.