UI physics and astronomy professor Susan Lamb's approach to retirement is similar to the colliding galaxies she studies - it's simply a matter of merging and evolving.
Lamb is still in the evolution phase of retirement, having stepped down this summer following a career at the university that dates back to the 1970s when she emigrated from London.
"It feels like an evolution rather than anything too dramatic," she said from an office she still keeps at Loomis Laboratory. "I had been thinking about (retirement), but I really didn't want to do it."
Lamb has plans to continue her research work, but said she will miss teaching and illuminating student astronomers.
"I'm trying to make the best of it," she said. "It provides more time to spend on both research and travel and, in particular, the possibility of attending more workshops and conferences during the academic year."
It's similar to how she describes objects in the universe that were once thought to be unchanging: "Things are never static for long."
Lamb is retiring alongside husband and fellow physicist and professor Frederick Lamb, who will continue his funded research focusing on X-ray astrophysics, neutron stars and black holes. He also will continue teaching the physics department course, "Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear War and Arms Control," which he will have taught for 30 year this spring.
"We're both keen to continue our research," said Susan, speaking on behalf of Fred as he prepared for a recent presentation at a conference in Amsterdam.
That conference trip is the perfect example of how the couple will be managing some of their newfound freedom. When the conference was over, the Lambs had planned some time on the lam with a vacation jaunt to Italy.
"That's something we wouldn't have even considered before (retirement)," she said. "It's the first vacation trip we've taken together in several years; this is our bonus."
The couple met at the start of their careers, when they were both graduate students at the University of Oxford, England. They married in 1971, just a year after meeting. Fred was recruited to the UI while attending a conference in Rome and took a position here in 1970. Susan obtained a research associate position in the UI astronomy department in 1973, after completing her doctorate-level degree from Oxford.
"When I came here, there was a possibility it could have only been for a year," she said, noting her intentions of letting the research winds blow where they might.
Fred never left the university, though Susan served stints as a visiting assistant professor at both UCLA and the University of Missouri-St. Louis before returning to the Urbana campus for good in 1980 with a position in the physics department.
She said the secret for the physics- and astronomy-minded duo is, "we don't work on the same projects, and that's on purpose."
Travel early in their careers made raising a family difficult. Their two children are now adults. She said the community was instrumental in making the unusually frenzied family framework succeed.
"We used lots and lots of students here and we had lots of help," she said. "If you want to do anything valuable, it's always complicated. For a variety of reasons, Champaign-Urbana is just a good place to raise children."
Susan was a baby-boom child born in postwar England, growing up amid damaged buildings and sharing a house with grandparents.
It was a time and point in history where "you had to believe in yourself, you had to persist."
But Susan didn't possess those sentiments alone.
"I had very supportive parents," she said. "I showed an interest in the stars and in physics, and I was always very good at math."
Susan's father was in the British air force during World War II, where he was trained as a navigator, acquiring math skills and a knowledge of positional astronomy.
"My father encouraged my interests a lot," she said of her developing love of numbers and the nighttime sky. "When I asked questions, he was able to answer them. He taught from the minute he walked in the door."
She said she realized her calling after her parents gave her the book "Teach Yourself Astronomy" for her 10th birthday.
"I still have it," she said.
She attended an all-girl convent middle and high school and received her subsidized undergraduate college education at the University of London's Queen Mary College.
She said the convent school helped shape some of her future study habits.
"I think going there was an advantage," she said. "I was fortunate to have good teachers and a library. I was the first person in my family to become a college graduate."
She recently was reminded on a trip out West - where the stars are fuller and brighter because of lower levels of light pollution - just how beautiful the night sky is.
"When you work on something all of the time, you tend to take it for granted," she said.
And she plans to take that lesson to heart upon retirement. She said she plans to be diligent in ensuring the personal connections she's made at the UI stay intact.
"You have to make an effort to stay connected to people," she said.