The U.W. Astronomy Department began in 1965 and has grown to 12 full and part-time faculty, approximately 20 postdocs, and 30 graduate students. Like every department at the University of Washington, our goals and responsibilities can be summarized as excellence in education, research, and public service. Our success is measured in many ways.
The faculty of the Astronomy Department are its most important long-term assets (see research interests here). Correspondingly we need to invest strategically in their long-term success. Those who are at the start of their career trajectories will return the most for the investment since they will be active for the next 30 years. However, our senior faculty remain as productive as ever, and have a proven track record. Retaining them and keeping them fully engaged in research and mentoring — that is, protecting them from encroachments on their time and us from recruitment “attacks” — is a winner for all.
There are many ways to invest in the careers of our faculty. Some suggestions follow; however, we prefer to fashion a program in close collaboration with potential benefactors. Similarly there are many ways to establish exciting Centers of Excellence. We urge donors to contact us before making substantial contributions so that we may optimize the benefits of a gift.
- Endowed Faculty Professorships & Chairs:
An Endowed Chair is the highest reward for, and the most appropriate means of recognizing the accomplishments of an exiting faculty member or an extremely enticing means to recruit top faculty from other leading institutions. The endowment pays the full salary of the recipient and provides excellent research support. The recipient is then free to pursue his/her interests with minimal distractions or other obligations.
Endowed Professorships are similar to Endowed Chairs, except that salary support is not available. Endowed Professorships provide discretionary research support, equipment, student support, travel, visits by collaborators, publication costs, and/or a month of summer salary (remember, faculty are normally paid during the 9-month academic year).
- Prize Postdoctoral Fellowships:
Postdoctoral positions (“postdocs”) offer crucial opportunities for new PhDs to engage in independent research during their most productive and creative years, to hone and broaden their research talents and interests, and to develop research credentials that are needed before they can apply and qualify for permanent faculty or staff positions. The competition for postdocs is a fierce, almost Darwinian process of selection. Prize postdoctoral positions that offer complete research independence are the most sought and prestigious of all positions.
Outstanding postdocs are an enormous benefit to the Department and its faculty and students. Postdocs are stimulating people, fresh with youthful exuberance and irreverence, who provide essential role models for our graduate students. The prize itself as well as its recipients are recognized internationally.
The suggested donation for a named fellowship is $70,000 per year for salary, benefits, and limited travel, with a minimum three-year commitment. The support can be funded from the income from a $1,500,000 endowment.
- Centers of Excellence:
A Center is an extraordinarily opportunity to create a U.W.-based research institute of international excellence containing several esteemed long-term faculty members, perhaps a postdoc or two, and several students, depending on the income from the endowment. A Center allows the University and the Department to respond to exciting research growth areas at an opportune time, and to make an outstanding and very timely impact in research and graduate education. Potential examples of research centers are a Center for Theoretical Astrophysics, a Center for Planetary Formation, or a Center for Observational Cosmology.
The operation of a major center over five years would require a minimum annual budget of $400,000 for salaries, hardware, and operations costs. A $10M endowment will provide independent, sustained funding for two faculty, a mixture of postdocs and graduate students, travel, research support and publication costs.
- Distinguished Faculty Visitors:
Visits and one-quarter courses taught by distinguished outside members of the astronomical community promote research diversity within the Department and promote research “resonances” with extant faculty, postdocs, and students that serve everyone’s interests. In the past some of these distinguished visitors have found the Department and Seattle so attractive that we have fostered a long-term working relationship with them. We will honor the visiting scholar and the donor at a modest ceremony, such as a dinner and a public lecture held on the U.W. campus, to which donors and their families and guests will be invited. The suggested donation is an endowment of $500,000 or a gift of $25,000 per year of the program.
A distinguished colloquium speaker series can be established for $1500 per visit, including a small dinner to honor the visitor. The donor, a guest, and some of our faculty and students would accompany the visitor.
Research experiences for graduates and undergraduates are essential to any successful educational program. Research experiences can be expensive, particularly in an area such as astronomy where the cost of operating major telescopes can be very significant. There is never adequate funding to provide our graduate students with all of the support needed to finish their research efforts and to gain the national exposure needed to find post-PhD positions. Undergraduates also need support to learn the skills of research so that they become sufficiently proficient to receive research grant support and the career opportunities that research experiences provide for them.
A list of possible areas in which donors can make a substantial difference to the opportunities and careers of our students appears below. We do not request funds for instructional support purposes that should be served by state funding. We urge donors to contact us before making substantial contributions so that we may direct your funds appropriately.
- Theodor Jacobsen Fund for Graduate Support:
Graduate students need support for training sessions at Apache Point Observatory or other substantial observatories, travel to scientific meetings with significant international exposure, and for the publication of significant research results. Support would be acknowledged in all publications for which these funds provided significant direct or indirect support. Our goal is a permanent endowment of $250,000. Contributions in any amount are welcome.
- Prize Graduate Fellowships
A one-year prize fellowship for outstanding research excellence by an outstanding advanced graduate student. The fellowship includes full tuition and modest support for publication costs and travel. Please note that the existence of such scholarships is a critical recruitment tool for top new student talent. The suggested donation is a named endowment of $500,000 or an annual donation of $20,000. The fellowship can be tailored to meet specific priorities of the donor.
Smaller donations — as small as 25% of a one-year fellowship — are also of very significant interest. They would be used for summer or one-quarter scholarships to graduate students of excellence at critical times in their PhD research programs.
- Undergraduate Awards & Opportunities:
Undergraduate students at a major research university such as U.W. are encouraged to participate in research projects supervised by our faculty. Our undergraduates consistently praise the Astronomy Department for the many opportunities that it provides. Contributions as small as $5,000 will provide travel support and modest investments in computers and research hardware which the Department’s state budget cannot cover.
Pregraduation awards for outstanding achievement bring our best students both prestige and opportunity for admission into top graduate programs. Enlarging our endowment for such awards is an important goal that encourages excellence and engagement in undergraduate studies. Our goal for undergraduate support and awards is a permanent endowment of $100,000. Contributions in any amount are welcome.
- Undergraduate Research Mentor:
Mentoring enhances the interests of our best undergraduate students in professional careers in astronomy and related technical fields such as mechanical or optical engineering, the methodology of high-performance numerical models, and advanced techniques of data analysis. The proposed endowment will provide 50% funding for a faculty-level leader/mentor who would serve in several important capacities: (1) connecting advanced undergraduate students to suitable faculty research projects (this brokering of people and opportunities is essential!); (2) providing personalized advising for advanced undergraduates about career opportunities inside and outside of professional astronomy; (3) connecting new, inexperienced majors to public outreach and education activities within the department, and (4) training undergraduates in the use of the planetarium and public telescope for public and K-12 outreach programs, organizing undergraduate participation in monthly observatory and annual open house activities. A permanent endowment of $500,000 would provide a 50%-time lectureship named for the donor.
All research-oriented Astronomy Departments require the best of instrumentation for discovering the Universe and training students on observational methods. Any first-class, diverse department such as ours must provide access to a variety of observatories that serve broad needs. Some of these facilities are provided at the national level, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and other facilities in space, at annual costs of several billion dollars for construction, launch, and operations. In addition, federally funded ground-based observatories provide extremely capable and expensive telescopes such as the Very Large Array, the Gemini Infrared Observatory, etc. However, the national facilities are crafted to fill unique, national-scale needs. The number of such facilities is small, their design is highly specialized, and the time available on them fulfills only a small fraction of the needs of the total national astronomical community In short, national facilities are not intended to play the role of university-operated telescopes that provide access for the bulk of modern observations, or to train students, to conduct routine research programs that can be done on modest telescopes that lie within the financial and technical reach of universities.
A department with a strong observational program must operate its own set of telescopes for routine research needs. These telescopes are like a basic automobile, whereas the national facilities are like a crane that you might rent when your needs are highly specialized. The University of Washington presently supports a modest array of observing telescopes. The 3.5-m (138-inch) optical telescope at Apache Point Observatory is the core of our University-supported observational and instrumentation program. It is an essential complement to the frontier research that we conduct using unique and internationally accessible NASA satellites, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and large ground-based radio, infrared, and optical facilities funded by the National Science Foundation. The telescope’s pioneering design is the work of the engineering group within the U.W. Astronomy Department. U.W. astronomers and administrators successfully engaged several other prestigious universities in founding the observatory in 1984, and the facility started operations in 1992. The APO collaboration has grown to include the Universities of Chicago, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Colorado, and New Mexico State. U.W. faculty and students have 31% of the annual time (100 nights per year).
The cost of operating these facilities is holding steady while the state budgets that support their operations are declining. Accordingly support is requested for an operations endowment for the 3.5-m telescope at Apache Point Observatory. It is also mandatory to equip our telescopes with the most modern of detectors and instruments in order to continue our frontier research programs and to properly train our students on methodologies of observing. We solicit contributions that cover a wide swath of needs, from operating funds to the construction of major new instruments on our largest telescopes. Substantial contributors should contact us in order to discuss the most mutually beneficial use of their contribution.
- Observatory Operations
U.W. is participating in major capital facility, the 3.5-m telescope at Apache Point Observatory, in collaboration with peer institutions (Princeton, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Colorado, and New Mexico State) with shared research interests. At the present time the annual cost is approaching $350,000. State of Washington funds are being used to pay these costs temporarily; however these funds can be volatile in times of severe budget restrictions. Our goal is to secure permanent funding for operations. An operating endowment of $3,000,000 is needed. Contributions of any size are welcome.
- Telescope Instruments
Although telescopes have a research life of over 50 years, the instruments used to analyze light need replacement on time scales of five years thanks to leaps in technology and changing interests in science. Donations of $200,000 or more can be matched with other funds in order to provide a steady stream of new instruments built at U.W. As an example, all imaging cameras used in astronomy have been black and white systems with a single detector. The technology for separating the light into three beams of read, green, and blue light is now available. With a donation of $250,000 we could construct the world’s first “Fast Color Camera” that would improve our observing efficiency by a factor of three and make a 3.5-m telescope very competitive with a 6-meter telescope for many deep imaging applications.
- Manastash Ridge Observatory Refurbishment
MRO is a wholly U.W. owned 30-inch telescope in the Cascades near Ell ens burg built in 1971 and operated continuously ever since. The facility has been a centerpiece of our undergraduate research effort, and is one of the most outstanding undergraduate telescopes in the nation.. However, for its present role to continue the observatory and telescope are in need of substantial rejuvenation. Specific projects for the near-term that would improve the MRO capabilities greatly are the installation on a large format CCD camera on the telescope ($80,000) and a streamlined telescope operating system ($20,000).
- Data & Computational Analysis Facility
The advent of large digital surveys has drastically increased the need for computational processing and database management in astronomy. For example, the existing Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has already produced over a terabyte (1000 Gigabytes) of data, and far larger and deeper surveys are on the way. The capacity and capability of this system will need to be greatly expanded for new survey and patrol projects. Likewise, the need for more predictive theoretical work in numerical astrophysics requires sophisticated computer modeling on computers with very massively parallel processors and data visualization requirements. Such a facility could be a key piece of Departmental infrastructure for a Center of Excellence (see above). The approximate cost is $500,000.
Astronomy is one of the most popular, engaging, and romantic of the sciences. Research shows that it serves as an ideal vehicle for awakening latent interest in the sciences in young people, not to mention the forgotten scientific interests of adults. So we consider it our civic responsibility to engage the public in astronomy through a variety of activities:
- Public television programming through UWTV and other local outlets. A typical taped broadcast is shown on UWTV dozens of times. There offerings require professional editing, particularly when high-quality color images are a key part of the presentation.
- An annual Open House in which we feature a dozen professional speakers, various demonstrations, planetarium shows, star viewing. These affairs are aimed at the K-12 students and their parents. Typical attendance is 500 people.
- Systematic collaborations with K-12 teachers in schools throughout Puget Sound. Our faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and interested amateur astronomers from the Seattle area find this a rewarding way to work with teachers and to supplement the science teaching and learning in public and private schools. Special events are arranged for the classes throughout the year. Coordination of the program requires outside support (outreach cannot be funded from state budgets at U.W.).
- Friday planetarium shows for K-12 students. The Astronomy Department enlists undergraduate and graduate students to offer as many as three planetarium shows per week on campus. The program runs at capacity, which was 3500 students in 2001-2. See the program’s web pages for more information.
- Observatory Open Houses. The old campus observatory, now named the Jacobsen Observatory, is staffed the first and third Wednesday evenings, April through October, for public viewing through the antique 6-inch refracting telescope at the north end of campus. Visitors are also offered public lectures (by our undergraduate majors) as they wait for access to the telescope. The program runs in all weather. As many as 200 people have shown up even when the weather is cloudy! Although the program is run by volunteers, the old telescope is in constant need of maintenance. Funds are also used to develop wall displays with new images and results. See the program’s web pages for more information.
We have established a special fund for outreach activities. Various examples of how funds would be invested are listed below. Many other types of activities can be developed in consultation with donors. Moderate donations are welcome via the secure web site marked “donate now”. We urge donors to contact us before making substantial contributions so that we may direct your funds appropriately.
- The 6-inch historical telescope on the U.W. Campus
This facility is one of the crown jewels in U.W.’s public outreach program. Built in 1895, the campus observatory is still in operation, although its research days are long over. The observatory is opened for public viewing and teaching twice per month. Staffed by volunteer undergraduates, the viewing and the public lectures excite well over 2000 people per year, including many families with children. The funds will be used to extend the program in order to provide additional educational opportunities for more people, to advertise, and to support ongoing operations and equipment refurbishments. $2,000 per year is needed.
- A New Public Lecture Series in Astronomy for UWTV
Three lectures were taped for UWTV in about 1997 and aired periodically ever since. They have been a spectacular success, reaching an audience estimated to be 9 million viewers (most of them repeat watchers). New talks must replace older ones as research in astronomy progresses. We propose to develop and videotape one new lecture per year for three years. The production costs are $10,000 per lecture. Videos would feature the names of the contributors.
- Public outreach program
The Astronomy Department excels in public outreach. The benefits to the Department and to U.W., not to mention regional students and their parents, are huge. Our program includes planetarium shows to K-12 classes, public observing evenings at the campus observatory, and an annual open house attended by about 500 people. Also, “Project Astro” pairs our staff and regional astronomers with local K-12 teachers and classrooms. We need to procure new expendable materials for public presentations (e.g., constellation finders, information packets, dry ice to make comets), and to make emergency repairs to our planetarium, video equipment, etc. Contributions of up to $10,000 would be particularly effective.
Unrestricted funds are essential for an active, enterprising, and risk-taking department. The funds enable us to explore or seize various new opportunities while we plan for sustainable funding or raise directed funds. Without taking such risks our research and education missions would wither. Unrestricted funds also provide funds that will position the Department and its students to seize new opportunities, to underwrite recruitment costs at critical times, to allow the Chair to provide incentives and rewards to members of the Department for special achievements, or simply to hold an occasional retreat to examine our goals and progress or to plan for our future. An endowment or gifts of any size are most welcome.
Here are common examples of the needs for unrestricted (discretionary) funds deposited in our “Friends of Astronomy” account:
- Special Research Initiatives — small amounts of seed funding are often needed for bold and risky new projects
- New Cross-Disciplinary Initiatives — our faculty often develop new outreach opportunities beyond our standard and sustainable outreach efforts, such as one-time special visits, astronomy as art or music, or a short collaboration in the history of science. Those special opportunities that extend our reach beyond of the Astronomy Department and into the broader campus or regional community deserve support.
- Fundraising Functions — small investments in time and money can be of incalculable value in fostering financial or other contributions. The Chair often needs to act swiftly and decisively. A fund of $10,000 is needed.
- Faculty Recruitment — travel and related costs of the interviews of 6 candidates are about $10,000.
- Faculty, Student, and Donor Recognition — Prizewinners and key benefactors are honored at a dinner (about $5,000 annually).
- Receptions for New or Graduating Students — we celebrate the arrivals and departures of our students and faculty. Our motives are rapid social assimilation of new people and the honoring the successful completion of challenging programs.
- Department Retreats — community discussions and long-range planning exercises are essential for departmental cohesion. We normally meet at an off-campus locations operated by U.W., such as Friday Harbor Oceanographic Research Lab (College of Oceanography) or Pack Forest (College of Forestry). Expenses are modest: typically $2000.
- Emergency Repairs — equipment repairs (e.g., student telescopes, off-campus observatories) are not generally part of the Department’s base budget. Trying to raise emergency funds can cause huge disruptions and delays in ongoing programs, so a ready pool of discretionary funds can be very useful.