Around the College
Dean Kumble R. Subbaswamy and vice president for academic affairs and Bloomington Chancellor Sharon Stephens Brehm greet faculty in the lobby of the auditorium at the welcoming reception hosted by the College. Brehm gave a short and gracious response to Swamy's introduction, and they both welcomed new faculty to Indiana University.
In the 2001 recruiting season, Teach For America accepted 15 students from Indiana University Bloomington. Eleven of those students were graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences. As the Education Week article points out, "Teach for America is channeling a wealth of talent, energy, and creativity into educational leadership that might otherwise have wound up in such fields as medicine, law, or business. Many corps members do leave the classroom, but a significant portion of them become movers and shakers in education."
The ASA recognized the department, which recently was ranked 11th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, for its excellence in training graduate students to become teachers. The department has produced many quality graduates who have gone on to faculty positions at prestigious universities and colleges throughout North America.
WIYN telescope attracts faculty
Caty Pilachowski isn’t indifferent to the charms of wooded dells, the power of music to soothe the savage breast, or any of the rest of it, but they are, for her, just the icing on top of the cake. The cake itself — what brought her to Bloomington — is actually an object on top of a mountain some 50 miles southwest of Phoenix, Ariz.
That object is a 3.5-meter telescope designed, constructed, and operated by the WIYN consortium, which comprises the University of Wisconsin, IU, Yale, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatories. It is, according to Pilachowski, "probably the very best telescope in that size range," having outstanding image quality, reliability, and range.
Without IU’s participation in the WIYN consortium, Pilachowski, who holds the Daniel Kirkwood Chair in astronomy, would not be here at all. When astronomy chair Kent Honeycutt first broached the possibility of her coming as the Kirkwood Chair, she says, "I was immediately tempted because besides the excellent faculty and the chance to teach and work with graduate students, I’d be able to play a role in using that facility."
"If the university had not been part of the WIYN partnership," she adds, "coming would have been less attractive, the possibilities for research limited."
The three schools that are part of the WIYN partnership — Wisconsin, Indiana, and Yale — provided the initial capital for the design and construction of the telescope. Researchers from each of the schools have access to around 20 percent of its operating time — in other words, approximately 40 nights out of the year, IU astronomers can use the telescope for their own projects. The remaining 40 percent of the time is granted to NOAO, which covers the facility’s operating costs and allocates its nights on the basis of peer-reviewed proposals from the astronomy community at large. The NOAO’s telescope time, Pilachowski points out, is typically oversubscribed by two or three times, making it extremely difficult for non-consortium researchers to get access.
Her current project, in collaboration with astronomers at Wisconsin and NOAO, involves studying star clusters to look for planets and investigate the evolution of solar systems. One of the advantages of looking at clusters, says Pilachowski, as opposed to individual stars, is that their similarities — in age and chemical composition — allow researches to start their work "automatically knowing a bunch of things" they wouldn’t otherwise know. But without the WIYN telescope’s multi-object capability, which allows the viewing of almost 100 stars at once, it would take a lifetime to amass a statistically significant sample. Before, Pilachowski says, research in her area was hampered by the small number of stars that could be studied; one atypical result could seriously skew the data.
There is a certain symmetry in Pilachowski’s coming to IU from Arizona in order to take advantage of IU’s participation in the WIYN consortium. Half a century ago, IU astronomy Professor Emeritus Frank Edmondson was one of the "founding fathers" of AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, a group that petitioned the National Science Foundation to build a national observatory. The result, Kitt Peak National Observatory, is now home to the WIYN telescope. "The astronomical community owes Edmondson an enormous debt," says Pilachowski. "He has had an enormous impact on American astronomy."
Before Kitt Peak, only the handful of schools that had their own telescopes and the right conditions for using them could sustain really excellent astronomy departments. Most places, like Indiana, were not high enough, not dry enough, and not far enough away from city lights. Edmondson’s efforts with AURA resulted in a research facility that still stands as a testament to the innovative vision and cooperative spirit necessary for the advancement of astronomy. Almost half a century later, the WIYN telescope represents a new model — in the service of the same end — for institutional partnership.
"Indiana is fortunate to have this access," Pilachowski says. "It’s absolutely critical to maintaining a good faculty." She pauses, then corrects herself, "I shouldn’t say fortunate, but foresightful."
— Leora Baude