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Large Gifts Support IfA Education and Research

Photomontage of the PS1 telescope

Photomontage of the PS1 telescope atop Haleakala, Maui, with the star-forming region of the Trifid Nebula (7,500 light-years from Earth). PS1 has a 1.5-billion pixel camera and takes over 500 pictures per night. Photo of the telescope by Rob Ratkowski. Photomontage by Karen Teramura. © 2011 PS1 Science Consortium.

Two large anonymous gifts in late December added to the holiday cheer at IfA. First, a donor made one of the largest gift commitments to the University of Hawai‘i by a private individual. Part of the $9.2 million will benefit the IfA by creating a Director’s Chair in Astronomy. Then, the IfA received a $3 million gift to complete construction of the Pan-STARRS 2 telescope.

The funds for the Director’s Chair will give the IfA director flexibility to enhance the IfA’s programs, and advance the education and research missions of IfA. The money will be used to recruit and retain talented faculty, support quality research, and provide seed research funding, particularly among promising junior faculty.

“IfA does not have any endowed chairs even though we have one of the largest astronomy faculties in the United States,” said IfA Director Günther Hasinger. “With an endowed chair we will be able to bring some of the best faculty members and graduate students here because it gives flexibility that otherwise is not possible.” Hasinger continued, “IfA contributes to our understanding of the Universe. It also excites young people and inspires them to think about careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.”

The cancellation of earmarks by the U.S. Congress in 2011 left Pan-STARRS, one of the IfA’s flagship programs, $10 million short of the funds needed to complete the two-telescope system—and on the verge of folding.

The Pan-STARRS project is an innovative design for synchronized wide-field telescopes developed at the IfA. Since it became operational in 2010, the first telescope, PS1, has discovered more than 345 near-Earth asteroids, including 29 that are potentially hazardous to Earth, as well as 19 previously unobserved comets—like the one visible in Hawai‘i skies recently.

“Once PS2 is completed this year, the Pan-STARRS system will be by far the most powerful wide-field imaging system in existence,” said Dr. Nick Kaiser, principal investigator of Pan-STARRS. He continued, “This project involves multiple experts from around the globe and is critical to the science community’s ability to fully utilize new technology and tools being brought online.”

The gift will support the construction activities of the Pan-STARRS project at IfA and pay the salaries of the Pan-STARRS staff, preserving science jobs in Hawai‘i. It will also bring new knowledge and support national security by bringing the world the most powerful wide-field imaging system and help NASA track satellites and identify astronomical bodies that may affect our planet.

“Before receiving this generous gift, we were looking at having to lay our team off and halting the two-telescope system project,” said IfA Director Günther Hasinger. “Having already invested $80 million in this project, it would have been a tragedy to let this program die, especially since we are so close to finishing!” Hasinger concluded, “Having to lay off our staff would have had long-term implications for Hawai‘i’s international leadership in astronomy. It has taken years to build up the qualified team we have here and would take years to rebuild our areas of expertise. Our team members and indeed our entire research community are deeply grateful to our donors for funding this research and literally saving jobs.”

Both gifts were made through the University of Hawai‘i Foundation. To donate to the IfA, click here.