College to Dedicate Telescope

The new Keck Telescope on the Westmont campus will be the focus of a dedication ceremony Thursday, September 6, beginning at 3 pm in Carroll Observatory. A celebration of more than a dozen summer research projects will follow the public dedication in Founders Dining Room.

The dedication will include an introduction by President Gayle Beebe, and Warren Rogers, academic dean, will recognize the donors who made the project possible.

Dr. H. Michael Sommermann, professor of physics, will also speak during the dedication program. He worked with students Fern Lim and Michael Bennett using the high-powered telescope to research the photometry of RR Lyrae-type pulsating stars. The students will discuss their findings along with other student research projects in chemistry, computer science, and biology.

“We’ve had a successful research session this summer and I’ve been extremely impressed with our new Keck telescope,” Sommermann says. “It’s been great to see the students’ enthusiastic response as they work with this excellent piece of scientific equipment.”

The 24-inch reflector telescope is one of the most powerful telescopes on California’s Central Coast. The observatory is named after George Carroll, a former chief engineer for Lockheed. In the late 1950s Carroll built a 16.5-inch Newtonian reflector telescope at Westmont, one of the most powerful in the region.

Carroll went on to build an even larger telescope in the San Gabriel Mountains, using Westmont’s as a prototype. That telescope was used by Lockheed to survey the moon for Apollo landing sites.

The largest single grant for the telescope came from the W.M. Keck Foundation, after which the instrument is named. In addition, Westmont was able to purchase the state-of-the-art telescope thanks to a grant from the James L. Stamps Foundation and gifts from several other friends of the college.

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science, and engineering. The foundation also maintains a program to support undergraduate science and humanities education and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of health care, civic and community services, education and the arts, with a special emphasis on children.

Westmont serves as one of the observing sites for the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit (S.B.A.U.). Every third Friday of the month, the S.B.A.U. holds public viewings at the observatory. The upgraded facilities have already provided several opportunities for outreach to children and students in Santa Barbara schools and the community.

Sommermann says future research projects may include measuring the rotation of asteroids as they travel around the sun. He says the powerful telescope may also allow researchers to look for supernova and new planets around the Milky Way.

Master Plan Construction Delay

Westmont trustees and President Beebe have agreed to delay the start of construction on the first phase of the campus build-out until October of 2008. The change will give college officials the necessary time to assure completion of all construction slated for the first phase of construction. Work to begin building the Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics, Adams Center for the Visual Arts, a residence hall, new observatory and a chapel was set to begin in May. A 42,000-page administrative record has been prepared by the court for a hearing Tuesday, December 18, as part of litigation against the county’s unanimous approvals of Westmont’s updated Master Plan.