Astronomy Has But One Wish: A $20M Telescope

Some of Harvard's science departments want new laboratory buildings, and some want the funds for a senior appointment or two. Other departments, however, have slightly more eclectic interests.

Astronomy, for instance, wants just one telescope.

A $20 million telescope.

In South America.

"We're not looking for a new building or other large things, but we are looking for this telescope," says Jonathan E. Grindlay, chair of the Astronomy Department.


According to Grindlay, such a project--built somewhere in Chile--would only take about four years to complete. With it, he says, the University could maintain remote computer links as well as an active presence there which would include graduate and undergraduate students.

"It's a way to significantly advance the participation of undergraduates in astronomy," Grindlay says.

Although the concentration only averages an enrollment of about six undergraduates each year, the program at the Smithsonian Observatory boasts more than 50 graduate students and several visiting scientists each year.

As a long-term project, the Astronomy chair says this telescope is essential because it can be used for a variety of projects over an extended period of time.

"It's not the kind of tool that becomes outdated," he says. "We're confident that there's a minimum lifetime of 30 to 40 years."

Grindlay says the telescope--four meters in diameter and 10 times stronger than the one Harvard now uses--would be used to map out the large scale structure of the universe, a project which would give scientists a "toe-hold on the whole field."

Asked to assess his department's chances in the competition for priority status on the fundraising wish-list of Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence, Grindlay said he "better not say."

"I wouldn't want to jeopardize the priorities," Grindlay says. "I'd like to think we've make our case clearly--I hope it's high [on the list]."