DONATE TO HELP FUND ASTRONOMY RESEARCH
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE
(and why research is fundamental to learning and advancing
What do donations help us to do? EVERYTHING outside of
standard classroom lecturing! To donate to
Cardinal Astronomy, click on www.fundforuofl.org/give
and search under "Additional Funds" then under "A", for "Astronomy Research Fund (G2723).
Why do we do research?
1) To train students to solve real-world problems. This does
not just cover physics and astronomy. A degree (and research
in physics or astronomy is often a springboard to
a jump analyzing "Big Data" in a number of fields, because a student
trained in math, statistics, problem-solving,
problem-IDENTIFYING, programming etc.:
-- crime statistics/criminology/law enforcement
-- medical statistics/health insurance
-- power system/utility consumption
-- political science/voter data
-- finance (stocks, derivatives etc.)
-- Earth imaging
-- general computer programming
2) To advance the body of knowledge. All basic research eventually
Nobody thought of a use for general relativity when Albert Einstein
came up with the idea.
Now we use it every day with GPS systems.
3) To answer fundamental questions arising from our human curiosity:
Where are we?
Where did we come from?
How did we get here?
Where are we going?
Are we alone in the Universe?
Expenses to do research, which are usually NOT funded by the
University, either depend on very hard-to-obtain
grants or donations. Most major university astronomy
groups/departments rely on donations to "start-up" their research,
and the consequent increase in their research output helps them to
compete for national government grants
(usually from NASA or the National Science Foundation or NSF) to
educate students even better.
Your donations could pay for:
Funding undergraduate or graduate students' time
to do research. This usually involves writing
to analyze data, do statistics, write research papers which go into
refereed journals (the "gold standard") for
contributing to the body of knowledge in the field etc.
Research experience is HOW students learn to solve
problems outside the classroom. But, student labor is
not free. A large fraction of UL students need
to work to pay their
tuition. We've lost potential students interested in summer
research projects to jobs at McDonald's because we couldn't pay
and McDonald's could. Some of our astronomy students who got paid
from grants include undergraduates Eric Feil and Brian Leist,
and graduate students Karen Collins, Jeremy Hornbeck and Matt
Nichols. We could employ more if we had some
money from donations. $4000 pays for a summer of research,
$20000 pays a Master's graduate student's time and
tuition for a half year, and $25000 pays a PhD student for a year
(since PhD students don't pay tuition except for
a candidacy fee each semester).
One new important program for UL astronomy
is with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Corporation.
Paying students and faculty to go on observing runs on large
telescopes. The best observational conditions are on
mountaintop observatories in the Southwest (Texas to California), or
further afield in Hawaii, Chile, the Canary
Islands, South Africa, Australia etc. These sites are darker
and have sharper image quality, by far, compared to other
places in the US. That's why the biggest telescopes in the
continental US are in the Southwest, up to the equivalent of 11m in
UL students have gone observing to Kitt Peak Nat'l Observatory
(near Tucson) and Apache Point
Observatory (in NM).
The largest university-owned telescope in Kentucky, at the UL Moore Observatory,
is 0.7m in diameter.
It does good work on a some dedicated projects on bright stars. To
get grants to work on data for faint stars or galaxies, one needs
a bigger telescope.
Can we observe remotely? It is possible to observe from a small
number of telescopes remotely. However, it's like a chemist
to do a lab experiment via Internet controls, or better, to skipper
a drone sailboat remotely. It is far better to be on site at
least a few times,
to see how the weather changes from moment to moment, to know
how the cameras and spectrographs are responding tonight, than
to depend on a telescope assistant or a fisheye lens to let you know
what's going on. Usually a student goes once or twice with a
professor to learn the ropes, before being able to go observing
alone. Remote observing comes after that. It costs about $1000-1500
to go to Arizona or New Mexico,
and about $2000 to go to Cerro
Tololo, the US national observatory in Chile for southern
Paying to go to conferences. Conferences are
where we learn what our colleagues are doing, and where we can
our research to get feedback/comments/new ideas. We can learn
more in one lunch with
a colleague, and start a new research project or think up an idea
for a grant, than with lots of e-mails, phone calls or video-chats.
Conferences can help us to recruit new students, and for students at
UL to land places in good graduate schools or find good
post-doctoral positions. A national conference like one
sponsored by the American Astronomical
Society costs $1000-1500,
and foreign ones can go up to $2000.
Paying for post-docs. Post-doctoral researchers
are the "bridge" between graduate students and university faculty or
with permanent jobs in research institutes. They are usually
terrific to help faculty get research grants and publish papers,
the product of successful research projects. Post-docs are
usually paid using grants, but a number of departments have endowed
post-doctoral fellowships. A year's salary and benefits for a
post-doc is $50000-60000. Endowing a post-doc
position, which is
a HUGE help for a physics & astronomy department, costs about $1
million. Examples are a Miller Fellowship
at Berkeley or
Fellowship at Harvard.
Buying time on telescopes. Before
WWII, astronomy was generally done with private or university-owned
In the 1950s, the US Government set up the NSF, which ended up
the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)
in the northern and southern hemispheres,
Kitt Peak Nat'l Observatory
Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
In the 1990s, enough universities got enough donations to buy their
own big telescopes. You can see a list of around a
couple of dozen large private telescopes and their university
Since about 2005-2010, the NSF has
been closing down medium-sized (2-4m diameter) national telescopes
to concentrate resources into a few large,
expensive ones (the 8m Gemini telescopes).
This is because there are a large number of medium-sized private
telescopes. The problem
is that astronomers at universities which don't have
medium-sized telescope access don't have the ability to do the
"background work" to
compete for time on the national 8m telescopes or unique satellites
like the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory,
Spitzer Space Infrared
To buy 18 nights per year (a 5% share,
enough for a few astronomers to run their research programs) on a
3.5m telescope such as
the WIYN (owned by U
Wisconsin, Indiana U, Yale U and NOAO) costs about $750,000 to buy
into the consortium, and a running cost of
$80,000-100,000/yr. It's possible to "rent" the telescope for
a similar time for an annual running cost surcharge of perhaps
The cost for 5% of a 10m telescope such as
the Gran Telescopio Canarias
and the smaller telescopes around it is about $7.5 million
buy-in and $225,000/year annual running costs. U. Florida is a
The cost for 5% of a 20m telescope such as
the Giant Magellan Telescope is about
$38 million buy-in, with an annual running cost of about
$500,000 - $1 million/year. U Arizona, U Chicago, Harvard U, U
Texas and Texas A&M are some of the members.