Embry-Riddle to Manage SARA Astronomy Consortium, Installs Florida’s Largest University-Based Research Telescope in New College of Arts & Sciences Building
Bachelor’s Degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics Scheduled to Launch This Fall
Daytona Beach, FL, February 3, 2014
Preparing to open a new observatory that will boast Florida’s largest university-owned telescope, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has joined the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA) and has been appointed the consortium’s lead administrative institution by its Board of Directors.
In addition, Dr. Terry Oswalt, the new chair of Embry-Riddle’s Physical Sciences Department, has been elected the chair of the SARA Board of Directors. In 1992 he was the founding chair of the original four-university SARA consortium, established to specialize in remote-access observations. Today the group consists of 12 U.S. universities with similar goals for education and research in astronomy and astrophysics.
Embry-Riddle’s SARA membership will give the school’s faculty and student researchers “eyes on the skies” around the globe through telescopes operated by SARA at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile. Supported in part by a new $500,000 National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant, SARA will assume operations of a third telescope on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma this year.
Dr. Oswalt says the university’s SARA entry is well timed. “When the Canary Islands telescope comes on-line about a year from now, Embry-Riddle faculty and students will have almost continuous access to nearly 90 percent of the sky. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our students to refine their observational skills using world-class equipment.”
Before joining Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus, Dr. Oswalt was head of the Physics & Space Sciences Department at Florida Institute of Technology, where he also served as associate dean for research and vice president for research. In addition, he was the program officer for stellar astronomy and astrophysics with the National Science Foundation.
He joins Embry-Riddle during a period of remarkable campus growth, exemplified by the new $40,000,000 College of Arts & Sciences (COAS) building, where classes began Jan. 8, 2014. Perched on the roof of the five-story structure is an observatory that houses the new 1-meter-diameter telescope and six smaller telescopes, totaling $2 million. The observatory dome was lifted into place in July 2013 and the main telescope was installed Feb. 3, 2014.
At 140,000 square feet, the COAS building is the largest structure on campus, containing the classrooms, labs and faculty offices of four departments — Physical Sciences, Mathematics, Human Factors and Humanities & Social Sciences. The expanded Academic Advancement Center, located on the first floor, will tutor more than 2,000 students a week. An open house for the 5,000 students enrolled at the campus was held Jan. 14, sponsored by the Student Government Association.
“The new building is superior to our previous facilities in every way possible,” said Dr. Bill Grams, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “In Physical Sciences alone, we now have 25 labs dedicated to astronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric and space physics, control theory and engineering physics. Sixteen are for undergraduate teaching and student projects, and nine are reserved for research by faculty as well as by students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.”
Possible research topics, according to Dr. Oswalt, are studies of potentially hazardous nearby asteroids and comets; the ages and evolution of stars; the large-scale structure of galaxies; the search for dark matter such as black holes, massive neutrinos and exotic particles; unusual compact objects such as pulsars, quasars and magnetars; and planets outside our solar system.
The Daytona Beach Campus plans to introduce a bachelor’s degree in astronomy and astrophysics this August, following the lead of the university’s other residential campus, in Prescott, Ariz., which launched an undergraduate astronomy degree in 2013.
Dr. Richard Heist, chief academic officer at the Daytona Beach Campus, says the astronomy and astrophysics degree represents a fresh new direction. “The astronomy minor has been popular for years and we’ve seen strong student desire for an astronomy and astrophysics major, so this is the right time to begin expanding our science offerings while maintaining our long-time dominance in engineering and technology.”
The new Embry-Riddle telescope is twice the size of the one currently located on campus. The substantial upgrade is the result of several years of campaigning by physics professor Dr. Peter Erdman, among others. “The new telescope collects more light with new high-efficiency detectors, so it can see objects 10 times dimmer than we can see now,” he said, “meaning visibility will be excellent despite the night-time lights of Daytona Beach.”
Giving the campus a dramatic new skyline, the two-piece, retractable observatory dome is 15 feet high, more than 30 feet in diameter and weighs nine tons. It will move electronically in sync with the main telescope, rotating a full 360 degrees. A smaller dome will be used to track the sun.
To reach a larger audience, images from the telescope will be fed to monitors throughout the COAS building and Embry-Riddle will continue its tradition of inviting the general public to view the night sky during astronomy open houses.
Other construction planned for the near future at the Daytona Beach Campus includes a 225,000-square-foot Student Union to accommodate an expanded array of student services and activities and an Athletic Center with space for a new sports medicine program. In addition, work is continuing on the university’s Aerospace Research & Technology Park adjacent to campus.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 70 baccalaureate, master's and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts and Sciences, Aviation, Business and Engineering. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., and through the Worldwide Campus with more than 150 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit http://www.embryriddle.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.