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Beth Sorensen
Office of Communications


First robotic observatory for undergraduate research in Pacific Northwest

Portland, OR (October 6, 2003)–The universe will soon become more accessible to undergraduates at Reed College with a little help from the internet–and a new robotic observatory.

Reed College assistant professor of physics Michael D. Faison has been awarded a $36,000 matching grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a remote robotic observatory for undergraduate astronomy research and education. Once available only to professional astronomers, new technology has made it easier to build robotic observatories. Reed is one of the first liberal arts colleges in the country to construct an unattended observatory for use by undergraduate students.

The observatory will be built outside the Portland metropolitan area, east of the Cascades, and will feature a 16-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope on a Paramount ME robotic mount. Used primarily by Reed College undergraduates to collect data for senior thesis projects and introductory labs, the observatory will also be available for public outreach to area high schools. Construction is planned for early summer 2004, and current sites under discussion include Pine Mountain Observatory near Bend and Rattlesnake Mountain Observatory in southeastern Washington.

"A remote, robotic observatory is a valuable teaching tool for undergraduate education," says Faison. "This telescope design recognizes a newly established paradigm in observational astronomy, in which professional astronomers operate remote, unattended telescopes via the internet. Having a research-grade telescope far from the light-polluted and cloudy skies of Portland means that students can pursue more in-depth projects."

Faison, a member of the Reed faculty since 2002, received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and his B.A. from Oberlin College. Faison’s teaching and research interests include observational astronomy, specifically high-resolution radio observations of the hydrogen gas in the Milky Way galaxy. "I was interested in science in general when I was growing up, and influenced by PBS and my father's electronics experiments," says Faison.

Astronomy at Reed
Reed College supports the study of astronomy by housing both a 0.3-meter Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope as well as a fleet of small Newtonian telescopes. Other facilities include a 3-meter radio telescope for studying the gas in the Milky Way galaxy and a low-frequency telescope for detecting radio flares from the Sun and Jupiter.

The 0.3-meter telescope on the roof of the physics building is open to the public for viewing the planets and stars on the first Friday of each month from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., weather permitting. To learn more about astronomy at Reed College, visit

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through programs that invest over $3.3 billion per year in almost 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering.

Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, is an undergraduate institution of the liberal arts and sciences dedicated to sustaining the highest intellectual standards in the country. With an enrollment of about 1,360 students, Reed ranks third in the undergraduate origins of Ph.D.s in the United States and second in the number of Rhodes scholars from a liberal arts college (31 since 1915).

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