From UC Santa Cruz: “Gifts to UC Santa Cruz fund new presidential chair for diversity in astronomy”

UC Santa Cruz

From UC Santa Cruz

August 29, 2018
Tim Stephens

UCSC astronomer Sandra Faber and her husband made the lead gift to establish an endowed chair named in honor of Faber’s mentor, distinguished astronomer Vera Rubin.

Sandra Faber and Vera Rubin (Photo by Lars Hagberg for the National Post)

UC Santa Cruz has received gifts and matching funds to establish a $1.5 million endowment for the Vera Rubin Presidential Chair for Diversity in Astronomy.

The endowed chair was created to advance the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence in astronomy. The holder of the chair will embody the spirit of diversity in one of a variety of ways, such as their proven ability to attract and train new astronomers from all walks of life.

Sandra Faber, professor emerita of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and her husband Andrew Faber launched the campaign for the Rubin Chair with an initial gift of $250,000. The chair is named for the distinguished astronomer Vera Rubin (1928-2016), who was a champion of inclusivity in science.

For Sandra Faber, who worked with Rubin at the Carnegie Institution of Washington early in her career, the more experienced astronomer served as a model of a successful woman in a field dominated by men. “At a time when few women succeeded in science, especially astrophysics, Rubin began to pave the way for all members of underrepresented groups,” Faber said.

Vera Rubin measuring spectra (Emilio Segre Visual Archives AIP SPL)

Astronomer Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory in 1965. (The Carnegie Institution for Science)

Rubin helped transform modern astrophysics through her research on the rotation rates of galaxies, making crucial contributions to the evidence that galaxies and stars are immersed in the gravitational grip of vast clouds of dark matter. Faber said she learned a lot about how to be an astronomer while working alongside Rubin, from how to give a scientific talk to the importance of careful measurements and respect for the data.

“She was playing in the big leagues, and she was also raising a family. It told me that I could do this too,” Faber said.

Dozens of astronomers from varied backgrounds remember with gratitude Rubin’s deep interest and encouragement of their budding careers. Her passion to open doors to all qualified persons makes her the perfect namesake for UC Santa Cruz’s newest endowed chair, according to Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

A novel feature of the Rubin Chair is its emphasis on using the proceeds from the endowment to enhance the department’s ability to attract and support aspiring astronomers from underrepresented groups, he said. Endowed chairs are typically used to pay the salary or support the research of the chair holder, whereas the holder of the Rubin Chair might use the funds for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships or undergraduate research internships.

“The Rubin Chair will be a bridge of support across cultural, ethnic, and economic hurdles to engage the brightest minds in astronomy,” said Ramirez-Ruiz, adding that diversity is a source of strength and excellence for the astronomy department.

Women have composed half of UC Santa Cruz astronomy Ph.D. students for more than a decade, and 30 percent of current graduate students come from underrepresented backgrounds. The department’s six active women professors are the largest tenured cohort of female astronomers in the nation, led by eminent scientists such as Faber and Claire Max, director of UC Observatories.

Faber, like Rubin before her, has been honored with the National Medal of Science, the Gruber Prize for Cosmology, and many other awards and honors. Her research interests include cosmology, galaxy formation, and astronomical instrumentation. Faber has also been a driving force in the development and evolution of the Osterbrock Leadership Program, which offers leadership lectures, workshops, field trips, and other opportunities to all interested graduate students in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. This program is unique to UC Santa Cruz and sets the department apart from all other top astronomy programs. It is also testament to Faber’s commitment to advancing the careers of young women and students from diverse backgrounds.

In addition to the gift from the Fabers, which came from a significant portion of the Gruber Prize, the Rubin Chair endowment fund has received major contributions from the Heising-Simons Foundation, John and Barbara Crary, and an anonymous donor. Other donors include the Rubin family, Mark Headley, Claudia Webster, Joanna Miller, and Loren Kinczel. The UC Office of the President provided matching funds of $500,000.

See the full article here .


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UCO Lick Shane Telescope
UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

UC Santa Cruz campus
The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
March 23, 2015
By Hilary Lebow
The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

“Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

“The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

“We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

“This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

“Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.