January 22, 2003

Committee to Manage Arecibo Observatory

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A committee was recently formed to bring together the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), co-managers of Cornell’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Arecibo is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope.

The new four-member committee, officially called the Cornell NAIC Oversight Committee (CNOC), will be chaired by Martha Haynes, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy. The creation of CNOC came about in part from pressure by Congress.

“Congress has said it wants to be assured that the facilities the NSF runs are well-managed, so we decided it would be a good idea to have the observatory and the center to understand its objectives,” Haynes said.

According to Haynes, the goal of CNOC will be to “facilitate communication and offer advice.”

The first major task of the committee was to appoint a new director of the NAIC to replace Paul Goldsmith, the J.A. Weeks Professor in the Physical Sciences, who is stepping down after ten years to return to teaching and research at Cornell.

A search committee chose Robert L. Brown, associate director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Brown will take over as director of the NAIC on May 5 and will also teach graduate-level astronomy classes at Cornell over the next few years. Brown was selected out of a pool of 50 to 60 candidates and was hired at the recommendation of the search committee.

The person appointed to this post “had to be an excellent scientist, a good administrator and someone who could bring the telescope into the future and expand the facilities at Arecibo,” said Joe Burns, Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering. Burns served as chair of the search committee.

“[Brown]’s experience as an associate director at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory was very important in his selection,” Burns said.

Those involved with the observatory say that they think the creation of CNOC is a smart step in managing the center.

“I think [CNOC] will be effective and an appropriate thing to do and we are looking forward to working with the board to improve the observatory,” said Prof. Don Campbell, acting director of the NAIC since Jan. 1.

Arecibo is one of four astronomy centers in the United States founded by the NSF, and Arecibo’s structure is similar to that of the other centers. While the NSF pays for the observatory through grants, “Cornell is doing a service to the NSF and scientific community by taking on the responsibility to run this facility,” Haynes said.

Archived article by Erica Temel