Cornell University has received a major gift toward a project to explore the universe for new galaxies and young stars. Cornell alumnus Frederick Young, a longtime supporter of the project, has pledged $11 million toward the design and construction of the Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope (CCAT), which will be built in the high Andes of northern Chile, at 18,400 feet above sea level.
The telescope will be used by astronomers around the world to answer fundamental questions on the origin of galaxies and the early evolution of the universe. (NOTE: Pronounced SER-ow cha-nan-TOR a-ta-CAh-ma.)
“The epoch of galaxy formation that CCAT is going to explore in a unique way is when most of the interesting things in the universe started happening, as far as we are concerned,” explained Riccardo Giovanelli, Cornell professor of astronomy and principal investigator for CCAT.
“The carbon in our bodies, the silicon in our computers, the gold in gifts we give a girlfriend or boyfriend – all these things were made with stuff being produced when our galaxies were born.
Understanding that process is understanding how the universe became sophisticated enough in a chemical way to produce things we enjoy now, like black and white movies and the stuff we use to build telescopes.”
Taking advantage of dramatic recent advances in detector technology, the 25-meter CCAT will employ large cameras and spectrometers to survey the sky at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, providing an unprecedented combination of sensitivity and resolution across a very wide field of view.
Because it can enable large-scale surveys of the sky, it will complement the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), now under construction. As CCAT discovers new sources, ALMA will follow up with images of those sources in unprecedented detail.
This August, the National Research Council (NRC) highly recommended that the CCAT project go forward, and further recommended federal support for one third of its construction cost and operations.
Young became interested in the project about eight years ago, and had already donated more than a million dollars prior to this gift. “Great astronomy departments need to have a strong association with world-class projects, and clearly this is a world-class project,” he said.
“My personal satisfaction comes from having been able to hang out with the best astrophysicists in the world, and I look forward to a continuation of the great joy I get from being with these very, very smart people doing very, very worthy work.”
In announcing Young’s gift, Cornell Provost Kent Fuchs called CCAT “a great adventure because of the spectacular science, as we create this cosmic surveyor; and it’s a great adventure because of the scale.”
The CCAT partners are Cornell University, the California Institute of Technology with its Jet Propulsion Lab, the University of Colorado, a Canadian consortium led by the University of British Columbia, the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn in Germany, Associated Universities Inc., a not-for-profit organization that operates national and international facilities in the United States and Chile including ALMA, and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre on behalf of the UK community.
Fred Young received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University’s College of Engineering in 1964, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the college in 1966, and an MBA from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell in the same year. He retired as owner and CEO of Young Radiator Co., an automotive component supplier, in 1999, when he sold the company to Wabtec Corp. He is currently an independent investor.
Young is a Foremost Benefactor of Cornell. His current commitment toward the Atacama telescope continues his generous support of the project over several years. He has also made gifts to Cornell to benefit the College of Engineering, the Johnson School, athletics and other areas. In addition to being a member of the Friends of Astronomy, he has served on Cornell University Council and is a former director of the Cornell Society of Engineers.