Friday, June 25, 1999

Telescope to aid
student research

An immense telescope atop
Haleakala will be used by British
and Hawaii high schools
and colleges

The man who made the telescope happen

By Helen Altonn


High school and college students in Hawaii and Great Britain within three years may be looking up at the stars from a remotely operated telescope on Maui.

The world's largest telescope for education and scientific outreach is being built at Haleakala in a partnership between the University of Hawaii and a British group, Gov. Ben Cayetano announced today.

An educational trust established by self-made millionaire Martin "Dill" Faulkes of England is providing about $3 million for the project, plus ongoing expenses.

A nonprofit Faulkes Telescope Corp. set up in Hawaii will own and manage the 2-meter (80-inch) telescope at the university's High Altitude Observatory.

Britain's Prince Andrew tomorrow is expected to join Cayetano and other guests at the Maui High Tech Park in Kihei for the signing of an agreement between UH and Faulkes Telescope Corp.

"Hawaii welcomes what promises to be a new generation in astronomical facilities that will serve as an educational tool for high school and undergraduate students in the United Kingdom and here," Cayetano said.

"Even more exciting is having the ability to share the beauty and mysteries of the stars in Hawaii's skies with students halfway around the world."

Tomorrow's ceremony on Maui will be the second big Hawaii astronomy event in two days. The 8.1-meter (26.5 feet) Gemini North Telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island was being dedicated today by officials from the United States, Great Britain and five other nations involved as partners.

Faulkes, board chairman for the telescope corporation, and corporation President Paul Murdin will sign the Faulkes Telescope memorandum of understanding.

Murdin is with the Particle Physics and Astrophysics Research Council in England.

Representing UH will be Alan Teramura, senior vice president for research and dean of the graduate division, and Robert McLaren, interim director of the Institute for Astronomy.

Telescope Technologies Ltd. in northwestern England is building the telescope, targeted for installation in early 2001 in a state-of-the-art enclosure that will open like a clamshell.

"A distinguishing feature of the Faulkes project will be that it will show students what science is," Murdin said.

Allows night-time work

Students will be able to use the telescope for scientific exercises and "also for programs of astronomical research of a professional standard," he said.

McLaren said the Faulkes Telescope advances the institute's plans to expand astronomy activities on Haleakala from daytime studies of the sun to night-time observations.

Except for an Air Force telescope and a satellite-ranging facility operated by the institute for NASA, there is no night-time astronomical research there, he said.

The first of the new Haleakala developments will be a University of Tokyo 88-inch telescope, the MAGNUM project, which will be installed in the coming year, McLaren said.

He said the Faulkes project is "a very exciting new undertaking -- to have a telescope of this quality and size for educational purposes."

Remotely controlled

Hawaii astronomers will share the telescope, but the main mission is education, McLaren said.

Although it will require some maintenance, the new-generation telescope won't have an operator on the mountain. It will be operated remotely from control centers in Hawaii and Great Britain.

The telescope's control system will decide if the weather is good for observing, point the telescope and take requested images. If the weather worsens, the observatory will close and the telescope will shut down.

Students to aid research

It will have a sophisticated electronic camera with 4 million individual picture elements, or pixels. Each image will cover a piece of sky about half the size of a full moon.

"Because of the visual nature of astronomy, it is a wonderful way to attract students to science in general," said Jim Heasley, the Institute for Astronomy's project scientist for the Faulkes Telescope.

"We're looking at using astronomy as a tool to help people learn what science is and how you do science," Heasley said, describing the telescope as one "for the people of Hawaii."

The average person, including most students, never have a chance to use anything like the Gemini research telescope, he pointed out.

But he said, "Amateur astronomers make valuable contributions to science, and this opens that kind of possibility to high school students and undergraduates."

Hawaii and British astronomers will involve students in actual research projects that will be published in scientific literature, and encourage their students to collaborate over the Internet.

Students will be able to observe stellar events as they occur and instruct the telescope to take images for research projects.

The telescope will be operated in the United Kingdom from the National Maritime Museum, located at the original site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which has a long tradition of astronomical research.


The Faulkes Telescope

The Faulkes Telescope is expected to be operational at the University of Hawaii's High Altitude Observatory on Haleakala by April 2001:

Bullet Built by: Telescope Technologies Ltd. in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in northwest England -- a twin to the Liverpool Telescope, which will be operational this summer in the Canary Islands.
Bullet The building: A state-of-the-art enclosure opens and closes like a clamshell.
Bullet Look! No hands: It will operate automatically (no operator will be necessary on the mountain). Control centers in the United Kingdom and Hawaii will instruct the telescope via a high-speed phone line on observations to be done.


The equipment

Bullet The scope: It has a 2-meter (80-inch) diameter main mirror and a field of view one-fifth of a degree in diameter.
Bullet The view: The Charge Coupled Device sensor with 4 million pixels, or individual picture elements, can provide images of stars, planets and galaxies that can be sent within minutes to schoolroom computers by phone and modem.
Bullet The weather: Its control system can determine if the weather is good for observations, point the telescope and take requested images. The enclosure will close if the weather deteriorates.

Who can use it?

Bullet Who: Hawaii students and residents during the evening and to those in the United Kingdom during their daytime (when it is nighttime here).
Bullet Purpose: Allows students to do "real time" studies of the universe and schedule observations in "robotic mode," with results sent directly to their schools for astronomical research projects, as professional astronomers do with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Bullet Results: Can provide educational materials targeted to the needs of schools and colleges in Hawaii and Britain.

Millionaire Faulkes
urges study of math

The man behind the telescope says that
with a degree, 'you can apply
yourself to anything'

By Helen Altonn


Martin "Dill" Faulkes says he specialized in math at an early age and applied his skills to become a "moderately successful" British version of Bill Gates.

Because of his experience, the 55-year-old millionaire is distressed about "the demise of mathematics in the United Kingdom, and everywhere, actually. ... It's horrifying."

An investor in software businesses, Faulkes said he wanted to put his money to good use and decided, after discussing it with his family, to establish the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust.

"The purpose is to get people understanding science, particularly mathematics," he said in a telephone interview from the Hana Hotel on Maui.

"The point is -- and this is the whole point -- with a degree in mathematics, you can apply yourself to anything."

The first big project of the Faulkes trust is the educational telescope being built in England to operate remotely on Haleakala.

"I don't think there's anyone in the world who hasn't looked at the sky at night and said, 'What's going on?'" Faulkes said. "It seemed like a wonderful project to do, and here we are doing it."

He planned to look at the possible observatory site yesterday with Jim Heasley, the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy's project scientist for the Faulkes Telescope.

Faulkes said he last visited Haleakala about 20 years ago when he toured the islands with his wife and two daughters, now 23 and 27. Although his name is Martin, he said everyone calls him Dill, a nickname that stuck from his childhood when his mother called him "dilly dilly dumpling."

Faulkes earned a doctorate in general relativity at the University of London, did post-doctoral work in Canada for three years and returned to London to get a doctoral degree in cosmology, the study of the evolution of the universe.

Then, he said, "I guess I decided I wasn't really cut out to be an academic and joined the real world."

He knew nothing about computers but persuaded a software company into thinking he knew all about them and landed a job as a computer programmer, he said. He was with the company for 12 years.

He spent the last five years in New York setting up an American operation, then returned to England and formed his own business, doing mergers and acquisitions and "helping American people get established in Europe, and European people get established in the U.S."

"Through those activities I learned how to buy and sell companies at someone else's expense, which is what I do for myself -- for public understanding of science, really."

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, which funds research and universities in Great Britain, had once given him a grant for doctoral work, and he went to that group for ideas about projects that need funding, he said.

Paul Murdin, who is with the council, discussed a telescope project he had in mind, and they got together with people from the National Maritime Museum in London, Faulkes said.

"We came up with the idea of a telescope for public use, and more than that, to make it particularly available to children in schools.

"That immediately appealed to me, to provide a scientific instrument of this capability to the public."

He set up the Faulkes Telescope Corp. in Hawaii, with Murdin as president, to manage the unmanned telescope.

UH astronomers will share telescope time, Faulkes said, adding that allocating time on it will be the most difficult task because it will be in high demand.

"Our main interest is children, getting children in Hawaii and the U.K. setting up projects to look at the sky at night in real time.

"The beauty of it is, it is night here when it is day in England, so children in classrooms will be able to see the sky at night over Hawaii in the school day."

Faulkes participated in a special event last Sunday at St. Andrews Cathedral to commemorate the memorandum of understanding that will be signed tomorrow by UH and the Faulkes Telescope Corp.

He and seven friends from Canada and the mainland got together and rang the church bells. "It was a three-hour peal in English style," he said.

Faulkes said he has been ringing church bells since he was about 15 and now rings at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

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