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External Review Panel Praises IfA

by Dave Sanders

In November 2001, the University of Hawaii conducted a major review of the quality and effectiveness of the Institute for Astronomy's research, teaching, and service programs. A panel of internationally recognized experts inspected the IfA's facilities on all three islands (Oahu, Hawaii, and Maui); interviewed faculty, staff, and students; and took a critical look at the Institute's organizational structure.

As a prelude to the external review, the IfA faculty conducted its own internal assessment. This self-study examined past achievements and mapped directions for the next decade. For a relatively young program like the IfA, such self-studies often have a strong influence on the academic reputation of the program and can help solidify its new initiatives.

The IfA's external review team consisted of three distinguished astronomers. Prof. John Huchra of Harvard University is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Prof. Robert Gehrz is on the faculty of the University of Minnesota and is a past president of the American Astronomical Society. Prof. Patrick Osmer is chair of the Department of Astronomy at Ohio State University and a former director of the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Their exit report was given in person to top UH administrators and to IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki and Faculty Chair John Tonry, and later shared with the IfA faculty and staff.

The panel praised the achievements of the IfA as outlined in its Self-Study Report and confirmed the importance of the IfA as a true national and international leader in astronomy research. The panel also stressed the importance of the IfA to the intellectual health of the University of Hawaii and the significant economic contribution of the Institute's programs to the State of Hawaii.

As stated in the Self-Study Report, the Institute for Astronomy is the youngest of the "top-twenty" astronomy departments ranked by the National Research Council. Just over thirty years old, the IfA "has become one of the most respected astronomical institutions in the world. The Mauna Kea and Haleakala Observatories . . . have grown into the world's most powerful observatory complex. Astronomy in Hawaii has become an international trademark of tremendous visibility. The fact that the premier sites for ground-based observing in the world have been developed and managed by a state university with little previous experience in such large scientific ventures is a testimony to the vision and trust placed by the University and the State in the IfA, and to the commitment of the people of Hawaii to develop a first-ranked scientific research program."

The IfA self-study is on the Web.

Important IfA Achievements

• The IfA ranks second nationally in research quality as measured by two important measures of academic achievement: the total number of times its research has been cited in the astronomical literature, and by the annual number of "high-impact" papers published.

• The IfA ranks third nationally in the total number of major astronomy awards received by its faculty.

• The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (partly owned by UH) ranks first in citation counts among all 3-6-meter telescopes in the world, and the UH 2.2-meter telescope ranks first among all 1-3-meter telescopes.

• During the 1990s, the IfA faculty were directly responsible for securing more than $110 million in extramural research funding for the University of Hawaii.

• Of the 75 recipients of doctorates awarded by the IfA since 1975, 83 percent are still active astronomers, second among all doctorate-granting programs worldwide.