ITHACA, N.Y. -- Cornell University alumnus Fred Young, a retired Racine, Wis., businessman and longtime follower of astronomy, has given $250,000 for the study phase of a proposed infrared telescope, planned for the Atacama desert in the high Andes of northern Chile.
Young said he will provide a further $250,000 for the Atacama project if by next year substantial progress has been made toward establishing a firm partnership that will lead to the construction of the telescope within a decade. The telescope, estimated to cost more than $100 million, would be built entirely with private funds from Cornell and other sources, although it is expected that its operation will involve federal funds.
"This is a great shot in the arm for the project," says Riccardo Giovanelli, professor of astronomy at Cornell and chief investigator for the project. "Fred's support and enthusiasm give us much optimism for the future of the project."
This is Young's second substantial gift to Cornell. He has made a major commitment to Duffield Hall, the nanotechnology research building now being constructed on the Cornell Engineering Quad. The building's spectacular cantilevered colloquium room is to be named for him.
Young, who obtained three degrees at Cornell between 1964 and 1966, has been interested in astronomy since he was a child. Three years ago he joined the Cornell Department of Astronomy alumni group, Friends of Astronomy. "I view astronomy-cosmology as the ultimate context for any study," he says. "It puts human evolution and modernity into perspective -- important to us, but a very small part of space and time."
The Atacama telescope, to be situated in one of the driest regions of the Earth and above the water vapor that normally interferes with the propagation of infrared radiation, will have the ability "to resolve planets in other solar systems, pierce the Milky Way to see the effects of its million solar-mass black hole center and study highly red-shifted sources in the distant-most parts of the universe" says Young. "It's very worthwhile to me to be associated with such an ambitious program."
Young earned his Cornell bachelor's degree in engineering in 1964, his master's in 1965 and his MBA in 1966. He retired in 1999 as president and owner of Young Radiator Company in Racine when he sold his company to Wabtec. The company designs and manufactures radiators and heat exchangers for heavy duty applications such as locomotives, construction equipment, military vehicles and diesel generator sets. He has long been involved in Cornell affairs and was on the board of the Cornell Society of Engineers in 1983 and 1984.
Giovanelli says the Atacama project is moving forward, and "we are talking with a number of prospective partners and we hope a partnership will be established for the study phase in the spring of 2003." Among the institutions interested in a partnership is the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which is discussing the possibility of operating the Atacama telescope for at least a decade in exchange for a share of the use of the telescope.
Before Young's gift, the project had received about one-third of a million dollars in financing from the Cornell astronomy department, the Cornell provost's office and the NSF, which has paid for site-survey work. "We understand the characteristics of the region very well, but we are deferring a final decision on the site until ongoing tests are completed; they include hydrodynamical computer simulations of the airflow as well as site measurements," says Giovanelli.
The next step of the project will be to complete the study phase and to firm up the partnership. Then the partners must find the resources to finance the detailed engineering and development phase, which is likely to cost 10 percent to 20 percent of the total cost of the project and take until the end of 2007. Construction would follow and take about four years, "at the most optimistic," says Giovanelli.