Tuesday, May 4, 1999

chief happy
in research

Donald N.B. Hall has shed
pounds and stress after being
removed as head of the institute

By Helen Altonn


Shedding the Hawaii Institute of Astronomy director's job and its political pressures has created a happier, healthier Donald N.B. Hall.

After 13 years of building an international astronomy reputation for Hawaii with millions of dollars in observatory developments, Hall has moved to Hilo, trimmed down and is "finding time for kids," sailing, traveling and hiking.

He and his son, Andrew, 23, of Honolulu, recently spent a few days on a cruise in Australia. His daughter, Kate, 21, has been in college in Oregon and is spending a semester in London.

"Life is great," Hall said. "I'm putting off getting onto advisory committees and national associations."

But he also has several large NASA research contracts.

Hall was removed from the astronomy director's job in mid-1997 and reassigned to a faculty position. The action was seen as politically motivated, particularly since University of Hawaii President Kenneth Mortimer had cited him for "meritorious leadership."

Two candidates have subsequently declined the position, held on an interim basis by Robert McLaren.

The most recent was Richard Ellis, director of the University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, who said the UH institute has lost prestige, partly because too much time is spent on political issues.

Hall's only comment on the institute's status: "I can't see how the institute is going to achieve its full potential with the current organizational situation under the UH administration."

Research 'going great'

As for himself, he said he had options for administrative jobs after leaving the director's office but realized he had been in administration for 20 years.

"A lot of my research skills were pretty rusty," he said. "I decided it was a watershed -- either I got back into research in a serious way or move onto another administrative position."

He chose research and said, "It's going great. I'm really enjoying it."

The Gemini Observatory gave him a laboratory in the UH-Hilo park until Institute for Astronomy facilities -- planned under his leadership -- are completed there.

"It's really an exciting environment now," he said.

He is hiring three or four people for a large project to develop telescope detector technology.

Hall was selected to be part of the science working group for NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope, which will replace the Hubble Space Telescope in six or seven years.

New NASA 'scope coming

It will be much bigger - about the size of the 8-meter (315-inch) Gemini Telescope being built on Mauna Kea, Hall said. Hubble is about 2.5 meters, or 99 inches.

He has two NASA contracts totaling more than $1.3 million to work on near-infrared and detector technologies for the Next Generation Space Telescope, with about $295,000 in current funding.

He also has $722,121 toward a $1.1 million contract with the University of Arizona to develop a near-infrared camera multi-object spectrometer for the Hubble.

Hall said he's "mainly interested in the center of our galaxy" and is concentrating on new detectors to do new things.

New silicon chip produced

While Gov. Ben Cayetano was in Silicon Valley talking about developing high technology in Hawaii, Hall said, "Rockwell actually produced under contract to us the largest silicon chip ever produced ... Somehow there is a communications gap."

He and other Hawaii scientists discussed their projects at a recent international workshop in Baltimore.

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