Advancing Excellence in Astronomy at OSU


Dear Friends,

"This is Ohio State's time." This simple phrase distills the vision articulated by Dr. E. Gordon Gee as he was installed, for the second time, as the President of The Ohio State University in October 2007. After a quarter century of dramatic evolution, Ohio State is unquestionably one of the great land-grant research universities, now poised to undertake the visionary goal of becoming "nothing less than the new land-grant university to the world" (Gee's address to the faculty in May 2008).

There is probably no unit on campus better positioned to take on this challenge than the Department of Astronomy. We have recently begun scientific observations on the long-awaited Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), the world's largest telescope on a single mount, and we expect the telescope to be fully operational with its full complement of first-generation scientific instruments within several months. Our Imaging Sciences Laboratory has delivered its contributions to the telescope system, the aluminization facility that puts the reflective aluminum surface on the LBT primary mirrors, and the rigid secondary system that will be used in commissioning the major instruments as the adaptive optics secondaries are developed. One of the LBT major instruments, the Multi-Object Dual Spectrograph (MODS), is being built at Ohio State: the first unit has already been deployed at the telescope, and the second unit nears completion in McPherson Laboratory after more than 10 years of development and fabrication.

Our graduate program has emerged as one of the outstanding programs in the discipline and in the University. The recent first-ever Graduate School assessment of the 100+ graduate programs at Ohio State placed Astronomy, along with only four other programs in Arts and Sciences, in the top "High Quality" tier. At the time of writing, three of our graduate students are Presidential Fellows, a University-wide honor bestowed on a mere 30 of Ohio State's 10,000 graduate students each year. Our doctoral recipients go on to outstanding postdoctoral positions.

Ohio State astronomers are at the forefront in important research areas, including searches for planets around stars other than the Sun (exoplanets), gravitational lensing, the evolution of stars and galaxies, supermassive black holes, clusters of galaxies, the large-scale structure of the Universe, nucleosynthesis of the elements in stars and the Big Bang. We have on our faculty three Distinguished Professors of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (Professors Gould, Osmer, and Weinberg), three University Distinguished Scholars (Professors Gould, Peterson, and Weinberg), and an Ohio Eminent Scholar (Professor Kochanek). Among our joint appointees in the Physics Department is another Distinguished Professor of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (Professor Steigman).

Ohio State Astronomy is poised for greatness. But we can't do it alone. We need the help of people who believe in Ohio State and believe in our goals of excellence in research and teaching. We need to provide fellowship and scholarships to attract the ablest undergraduate and graduate students. We need endowed professorships to enable us to compete with the traditional centers of excellence for the most outstanding faculty in the field.

In the last few years, we have made remarkable progress: through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Astronomy and the Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP), our joint venture with the Ohio State Department of Physics, have been able to award the Jefferson Chair to Professor Andy Gould, who leads our searches for planets around other stars through gravitational microlensing and to provide continuing fellowships for young scholars working at the interface between astrophysics and particle physics. Physics alumnus Forrest Biard has endowed an annual lecture series associated with CCAPP that is a special effort to provide our Mathematical and Physical Sciences undergraduates with the opportunity to meet with world-renown researchers. Astronomy doctoral alumni David Price and Alan Markowitz support, respectively, the Price Fellowship in Astronomical Instrumentation and the Markowitz Graduate Award in Observational Astronomy, following the advice of Woody Hayes to "pay forward". This is the Buckeye spirit that is the underpinning of the greatness of Ohio State. Be part of our success.

The Ohio State tag line that I like best is "Do Something Great." In a nutshell, that's our goal.

Bradley Peterson
Professor and Chair
The OSU Department of Astronomy