Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

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1 Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Site Review Application of the University of Virginia For AURA Membership AURA s policy regarding new Member Institutions is based on a determination by the Membership Committee regarding the suitability of the prospective member and compatibility with AURA long-range strategic goals. Based on this, an invitation to submit an application is transmitted by the AURA President. On October 17, 2002, the University of Virginia was invited to submit an application. Attachment I includes current Membership Guidelines and Attachment II includes the application received on March 13. A site visit and review was conducted on April 11 by Len Kuhi and William Smith. Background From the time of it s founding, Thomas Jefferson expressed a specific interest in astronomy and envisioned that this should be an element of the educational program at the University of Virginia. In 1870 former general Robert E. Lee undertook a fund raising effort to attract the interest of Leander McCormick. The twenty-six inch Clark refractor of the Leander McCormick Observatory began observations in 1885 and was the largest telescope in the country. Photographic observations were begun in 1914 for the purpose of measuring stellar positions and motions and have been in progress ever since. Over 155,000 plates have been accumulated, and 2,000 of the roughly 6,000 stars with known parallaxes (geometric distance measures) were measured here. UVA's strong emphasis in astrometry continues with programs making use of both UVA's own facilities and (through a cooperative arrangement) Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia, as well as through strong involvement in new space-based astrometry missions like NASAs FAME and SIM satellites. The early 1960's marked the start of a time of rapid growth for the Department of Astronomy. Because of the deterioration of the in-town observing site and the advanced age of the telescope, a new observatory was founded on Fan Mountain about 25 km south of town. While an active astrometry program has been maintained, the primary research effort of the Department has evolved toward astrophysics. Significantly, UVA is an outstanding model for how a co-located national observatory and a university department can develop. The Department grew throughout the 1960 s as new faculty were hired to complement the scientific staff of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), whose headquarters have been located on the grounds of the University of Virginia since 1965.

2 In 1985 the Virginia Institute for Theoretical Astronomy began operation. VITA is an astronomical research institute within the University, specializing in interdisciplinary astrophysical problems. VITA has a small permanent scientific staff and a number of long term visiting scientists and postdocs. Beginning in 1984, the Astronomy Department began actively exploring involvement in large telescope projects with a number of different partners including AURA. These include: The Consortium to Build Telescopes (CBT; a 1980's consortium to build a 4-m class telescope); the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN) consortium; a partnership with Colorado, Minnesota, Rutgers and NOAO to build two 2.4-m telescopes; a 1997 attempt to join the Magellan Project; two attempts to buy access to the smaller telescopes operated by the Carnegie Institution on Las Campanas, Chile; a consortium led by the University of Chicago and Boston University to build a 2-m telescope at the South Pole; the South Africa Large Telescope (9-m special-purpose multi-mirror design); SOAR (4- m telescope consortium led by the University of North Carolina and others); the Gran Canarias 10-m multi-mirror telescope; the Large Binocular Telescope Project; the Lowell 4-m telescope project; the Australian Wide Angle 6.5-m project; the Wide Field Multi- Object Spectrographic Telescope; the Cornell Atacama 15-m Telescope; and a 30-m transit telescope proposed by the University of Illinois. In October, 2002, the University of Virginia announced that it has joined the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) project which will be completed in UVA.'s $4 million investment will give its astronomers seven nights per year of dedicated astronomical observing time on the telescope, as well as access to several other smaller telescopes including the MMT, Magellan, and other programs in which Steward Observatory has a role. UVA will also contribute instrumentation expertise to the telescope consortium. Through a gift from The Celerity Foundation founded by UVA Astronomy Ph.D. Frank Levinson, the Department will expand in the area of astronomical instrumentation by the addition of new faculty, staff and the Virginia Astronomical Instrumentation Laboratory. This will be used to initiate a program in O/IR instrumentation and educational programs. These efforts are primarily intended to support Virginia's role in the LBT consortium, but clearly can be directed towards other observatories including NOAO and Gemini. Facilities The Leander McCormick Observatory with its 26-in Clark refractor on Mount Jefferson is now used almost exclusively for education and public outreach. It is heavily used for both graduate and undergraduate courses. The 0.7-m and the 1-m reflectors on Fan Mountain are also used for undergraduate majors and graduate observational astronomy courses. An auxiliary guider was installed on the 1-m telescope. The goal is to achieve 0.36 arcsec resolution; this resolution is a better match for the image scale of the main CCD used for scientific exposures. A fiber-fed spectrograph for the FMO 1-m telescope is under development. The spectrograph will be used to do the northern hemisphere spectroscopy for a Grid Giant Star Survey. When complete, the GGSS will provide much of the 2

3 ground-based pre-launch support for NASA's Space Interferometry Mission (SIM). In Australia, the 1-m reflector at Siding Spring Observatory has continued to be made available for the southern parallax program under a cooperative agreement with Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories. Faculty and Research Interests The University has the largest astronomy department in the Southeastern US. The fifteen faculty members of the department are committed to strong undergraduate teaching as well as to conducting astronomical research. As one of the top fifteen research departments in the country, faculty expertise spans a wide range of subjects from star clusters, to the evolution of our Galaxy, to black holes, to distant galaxies. Active faculty research programs keep classroom teaching up-to-date and are an integral part of tutorial and senior thesis projects. Faculty research is well supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies UVa is one of only three universities in the country to offer undergraduates access to radio astronomy instrumentation. Current areas of active research are: GALACTIC ASTRONOMY AND STELLAR POPULATIONS: Balbus, Ianna, Majewski, Murphy, O'Connell, Patterson, Rood, Saslaw, Skrutskie EXTRAGALACTIC ASTRONOMY: Colley, Majewski, O'Connell, Patterson, Saslaw, Thuan, Whittle STARS AND STELLAR EVOLUTION: Chevalier, Kumar, Li, Majewski, McDavid, Rood, Skrutskie, Xiluri INTERSTELLAR MEDIUM: Balbus, Chevalier, Johnson, Li, Murphy, Sarazin THEORETICAL AND HIGH ENERGY ASTROPHYSICS: Balbus, Chevalier, Hawley, Li, Sarazin, Saslaw STAR FORMATION: Li, Skrutskie, Whittle ASTROMETRY: Fredrick, Ianna, Majewski, Patterson, Seidelmann RADIO ASTRONOMY: Murphy, Rood, Thuan, Tolbert, Xiluri SPACE ASTRONOMY: Chevalier, Fredrick, Majewski, Murphy, O'Connell, Patterson, Sarazin, Seidelmann, Whittle INSTRUMENTATION: Majewski, McDavid, Skrutskie, Wilson, Xiluri PLANETARY ASTRONOMY: Black, Johnson, Kumar, Rood, Seidelmann, Verbiscer 3

4 Suitability for AURA Membership The University of Virginia meets AURA s criteria for membership as follows: Faculty The UVA faculty list of 20 well exceeds the minimum requirement of five. Program Quality UVA s astronomy program is currently ranked 15 th in all US universities, well within AURA s membership base. PhD program UVA has awarded 14 PhDs since 1997, well in excess of the requirement for one per year over the past five years. Involvement with AURA UVA surfaced as a desirable member institution based on the historically large number of observing proposals awarded on AURA operated telescopes, primarily HST and NOAO. In addition, as listed in UVA s application, UVA faculty members have participates strongly in a variety of NOAO and STScI related activities over the years. During the site visit, a very productive discussion was held with faculty on a variety of issues related to AURA s interests. Clearly, UVA astronomers have a deep understanding and involvement in the politics, policy and culture of both ground-based and space astronomy. UVA s historical dependence on public observatories has given it a strong sense of the value of public astronomy. Some of the discussion revolved around the extent to which AURA itself would maintain its stewardship of public interests as it promoted larger observing programs at NOAO and STScI and it moved in the future towards the complex public/private partnerships for facilities such as GSMT and LSST. This is an issue, which UVA will surely articulate as a part of its interests as a member institution. Clearly UVA shares AURA s values for promoting the science of astronomy, a public understanding of astronomy, and the development of educational programs in astronomy. In addition, as AURA looks towards implementation of the Decadal Survey and the realization of the initiatives proposed therein, UVA and its ambitious vision would seem a valuable asset. 4

5 Attachment I Membership Guidelines Adopted by the AURA Board of Directors on April 8, The applicant institution should demonstrate that it has been successful in promoting astronomy in its own institution as evidenced by the quality, scope, and effectiveness of its astronomy program with these guidelines: a. All Applicants b. Universities i. A staff of five or more faculty or equivalent; and ii. A research program that, on assessment of its quality and effectiveness, would place the applicant among the ranking of current AURA members. i. A graduate program leading to a doctorate in astronomy, astrophysics, or related studies; and ii. An average of one or more doctorates awarded per year over a five-year period. c. Other Nonprofit Institutions i. Significant contributions to astronomical research through the operation of facilities or sites or through other means; and ii. Programs to promote astronomy, for example, through public or private education. 2. The applicant institution should have demonstrated an involvement in AURA's role and mission in astronomy through: a. Publications by faculty or staff, and, if applicable, by students based upon data gathered at AURA facilities; and b. Service by faculty or staff on AURA's Board of Directors as Directors-at-Large or on AURA Centers' advisory or review committees, such as visiting, users, telescope time allocation, etc. 5

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