Once again, the sky is the limit, or at least the destination, as Washington State University celebrates the revival of its astronomy program and the reopening of Jewett Observatory.
The WSU astronomy program, which flourished in earlier decades, was challenged in the 1990s when instructor Tom Lutz died, and his wife, Julie, the second main astronomy professor, moved to Seattle. The mathematics department, which has administered the program since its inception, tried to keep it alive for several years but saw it flatline in spring 2000 when its sole associate professor left for another university. Due to lack of budgetary resources, the mathematics department could not hire sufficient faculty and repair the observatory.
Realizing the importance of the program, the physics department requested that astronomy be moved under its direction, similar to astronomy programs at most universities in the United States. "Astronomy and physics go hand in hand," noted Miles Dresser, professor emeritus in physics.
The program was on ice for a year when the physics department jolted a strong heartbeat back into it by hiring two full-time associate professors to rebuild and teach the astronomy offering:
Guy Worthey, assistant professor of physics, earned his B.S. in astronomy from the University of Wyoming and his M.S. and Ph.D. (1992) degrees in astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Worthey was Hubble Fellow and lecturer for five years at the University of Michigan. He joins WSU from St. Ambrose University in Iowa, where he was associate professor of physics and astronomy, director of the Menke Observatory and chair of the physics department. His research interests are observational cosmology and galaxy formation, stars and stellar populations, and chemical and chemodynamical evolution of the universe.
Worthey is a mission scientist for the Space Interferometry Mission, a satellite that NASA hopes to launch in 2009.
Sukanta Bose, assistant professor of physics, earned his first degree at the Indian Institute of Technology and his master’s and doctorate (1996) at the University of Wisconsin. He held postdoctoral positions at the Albert-Einstein-Institute in Potsdam, Cardiff University, the NIOBE Gravity-Wave Lab in Perth and the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in India. His primary research interests are in detecting gravitational waves, black hole physics and cosmology. Bose participates in the international effort to use gravitational-wave observations to estimate the rate of binary neutron-star/black-hole coalescence events. He expects to strengthen relationships with the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-wave Observatory group at Hanford.
Worthey and Bose began the year by offering two new undergraduate classes in astronomy. That expanded to three this spring and will expand again in the fall.
The program is seeking approval as a degree minor, with plans to expand it into a full major in the future.
During the past year, the physics department has also invested in the remodeling of the Jewett Observatory (built in 1953) and the repair of the classic 12-inch refractory telescope, which it houses. This telescope — the largest of its kind in the state — was built in 1887 by Alvin Clark & Sons.
As part of reintroducing the program to the campus and community, the Department of Physics is holding a grand reopening of the Jewett Observatory at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, in the observatory. Worthey and Bose will be on hand to discuss their plans.
For more information on the program see http://astro.wsu.edu/index.html.
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