U of A receives $20M gift to reach for the stars

A gift of $20 million from Richard F. Caris will support the University of Arizona’s (UA) participation in the Giant Magellan Telescope Observatory (GMT). The UA is one of eleven institutions that have come together to build the GMT, a 25-meter telescope with more than six times the light-gathering area of the largest telescopes in existence today, and 10 times the resolution of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT will be constructed at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
“We are grateful that Richard F. Caris has provided this generous gift to the UA, which will support our participation in the GMT, a critically important effort in the space sciences,” said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. “Mr. Caris has been an ardent supporter of the university for more than a decade and his contributions have helped establish the UA’s international prominence in astronomical research.”

Model of the Giant Magellan Telescope courtesy of Steward Observatory Mirror Lab
Model of the Giant Magellan Telescope courtesy of Steward Observatory Mirror Lab

Richard Caris is the founder and chairman of Interface Inc., a high-tech company in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a world leader in load cell force measurement applications, including the custom mirror-cell support systems in the telescopes that the UA has helped construct, such as the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona.
Artist rendering of GMT telescope courtesy of UA News
Artist rendering of GMT telescope courtesy of UA News

In recognition of the gift, the UA’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, which will provide GMT with all eight of its primary mirror segments, will be renamed the “Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.” Under the leadership of its director, UA Regents’ Professor Roger P. Angel, the mirror lab has earned worldwide recognition for producing giant, lightweight mirrors of unprecedented power for a new generation of optical and infrared telescopes.
University of Arizona Steward Observatory Mirror Lab
Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab – photo by Daniel Stolte

“Higher education and big science are deeply important to Mr. Caris,” said Sid Leach, chairman of the Arizona Astronomy Board. “Richard is so humble about his achievements and the company he built for more than half a century, but I know how much supporting the UA’s Department of Astronomy and the GMT means to him.”
GMT1: Applying Blue-Cote to surface.  Ray Perry,  Robert Lopez & Bruce Hille.
A protective coating (OptiCoat®) is applied to GMT mirror #1 to prevent the delicate surface from being damaged. Credit: Ray Bertam, UA

Each of the mirrors produced at the UA for the GMT is round and 8.4 meters in diameter. Seven will be used at one time in the telescope to combine into a primary segmented mirror effectively 25 meters in diameter, with one kept as a spare. The mirror lab has had a long-standing partnership with Interface, Inc., whose load cells have supported many mirrors during the polishing phase.
The polishing head changes shape to match the curvature of the mirror as it moves across the surface. Credit: Ray Bertram, UA

This latest gift supports the UA’s initial $60 million commitment of funds toward the construction of GMT, ensuring UA astronomers will have access to valuable observing time on the landmark telescope, which is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, said, “The mirror lab is unquestionably one of the innovation jewels of our University. The lab is known around the world for creating the largest mirrors for astronomical use. It is fitting that it will now have the name of Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, as Mr. Caris is also an innovator with a very successful company in our state.”
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Photo courtesy of astrophotographer Jarred Donkersley of Dark Sky Matters