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Friday, October 13, 2000

The telescopes atop Mauna Kea, such as this Subaru Telescope,
will be among topics discussed at an Oct. 28 open house.

New astronomy
director crosses
globe to shoot
for the stars

The German scientist sets
high goals for the islands'
astronomy facilities

Astronomy open house

By Helen Altonn

Rolf-Peter Kudritzki faces some big challenges, not the least of which is where to put a container of belongings -- including a piano -- expected to arrive today from Germany.

The new University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IFA) director looked around his crowded office during an interview, suggesting it might have to be rearranged.

But the former University of Munich astronomer and observatory director didn't seem fazed by that or any other problems he might encounter in running an internationally renowned astronomy operation on three islands.

He appeared tanned, relaxed and at home -- wearing a bright green aloha shirt. It wasn't new, he said, explaining he always wore such shirts in Germany.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Rolf-Peter Kudritzki takes over as UH Director of Astronomy.


Bullet Name: Rolf-Peter Kudritzki
Bullet Age: 55
Bullet Education: Diploma in physics and doctorate in astronomy, Technische Universitat Berlin; Habilitation in Astronomy, Universitat Kiel.
Bullet Positions: Scientific member of Max-Planck-Institut for Astrophysik, Garching, Germany, since 1990. Astronomy professor and director of Munich University Observatory, 1982 until appointed University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy director in June.
Bullet Professional Affiliations: Elected this year as a director of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which manages U.S. national observatories. Longtime chairman and vice-chairman of Rat Deutscher Sternwarten, the committee that directs German astronomical institutes and organizes German astronomy.
Bullet Publications: Author of numerous papers and scientific publications.
Bullet Pastimes: Plays guitar, soccer and runs; reads a lot -- "American literature these days," and books about Hawaiian history and issues.

He celebrated his 55th birthday Monday with what his staff called an "American German chocolate cake."

But it was a short celebration. He began working almost as soon as he arrived Sept. 30 with his wife, Helgard, and their "precious instruments" -- his guitar (he plays rock 'n' roll) and her violin and viola.

They are staying in faculty housing and hope to buy a home. Their children -- Jana, a veterinarian, and Florian, a technician -- are in Germany.

Kicking off Kudritzki's week, he had to conduct two major Big Island meetings of Mauna Kea observatory directors and users from participating countries.

He noted a difference in the American way of conducting such collaborations, compared with the European culture.

"It is very professional, very serious and also very relaxed ... It is a very direct approach here as well. Things have to be put on the table, to discuss the problems and find a solution.

"It's the way I think one should handle a $1 billion enterprise, which Mauna Kea essentially is."

Kudritzki said Robert McLaren "has done a wonderful job" and the observatories are "very satisfied with the role the IFA plays" in the Mauna Kea complex.

McLaren was interim institute director from June 1997 until Kudritzki was appointed after a long, global search. He also had charge of Mauna Kea, his previous job. Kudritzki said he has much to learn from McLaren: "There is some understanding that we will continue as a team."

"It's obviously a relief to have a director in place after such a long period," said astronomer James Heasley, adding that Kudritzki "has shown up with a great deal of enthusiasm." He said McLaren "did a wonderful job in keeping the place together during a difficult time."

Kudritzki said the institute, Mauna Kea and Haleakala offer "enormous opportunities for research" and he plans to organize and delegate responsibilities so he can take advantage of them.

He already has signed up for observing time on the Mauna Kea telescopes to pursue his research interests.

He said he applied for the IFA job because "there is practically no other place on earth where I would have a better opportunity to do my scientific work and provide leadership to do outstanding science."

He studies massive, hot, luminous stars and extragalactic aspects, trying to learn about the evolution of galaxies and formation of stars.

An eye to the future

Making the best use of Mauna Kea's facilities to contribute to scientific development is his highest priority. Haleakala also is "an extraordinary site" for research options, he said.

Mauna Kea and Chile have been mentioned for a 30-meter California Extremely Large Telescope planned by the researchers who developed the 10-meter twin Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea.

"It certainly is the future of ground-based astronomy," Kudritzki said. The institute will try to be part of it, he said, "but everything has to be developed step-by-step and with the Mauna Kea master plan."

He said it's a long document, difficult to read, but he read it "several times very carefully," and believes it balances ecological, native Hawaiian and astronomy requirements.

"We will take the master plan very seriously," he said, stressing that astronomers respect and want to understand nature and minimize any impact on it.

Kudritzki negotiated an annual UH salary of $215,000 to compensate somewhat for loss of his pension at the University of Munich. It's the highest faculty salary after that of Dr. Edwin Cadman, dean of the School of Medicine.

Still, Kudritzki acknowledged he didn't accept the IFA director's position until UH regents approved the master plan.

He felt it should be adopted before he came here because he couldn't meet expectations "to bring this to the top institution in the world" if he were involved for years with environmental issues.

Points of improvement

Kudritzki already has strong ideas about what he wants to do to build up the institute and Hawaii's astronomy capabilities, including:

Bullet Strengthening development of instrumentation, already a reputed area for the Hawaii institute. "Many people don't know that the telescope alone is nothing," he said, citing the need for cameras, spectrographs and other tools so telescopes can operate "at the margin of what is technologically feasible."
Bullet Expanding astronomy education and outreach to students and the community.
Bullet Improving communication among the institute in Manoa, its new building at UH-Hilo and the observatory at Haleakala.
Bullet Increasing funding and faculty to develop the IFA's "enormous potential." He hopes to find "the best people" to join the IFA, including some colleagues in Munich. He also will concentrate on fund-raising and grant proposals.
Bullet Setting up an organization such as "Friends of IFA" and possibly a citizens' advisory committee.
Bullet "Creating an atmosphere where Hawaii residents "are part of astronomy in the state -- something we can be proud of."

Kudritzki said people in the institute "are willing to go more aggressively" to the public in outreach programs so the public "can understand the exciting work we're doing."

He said a 2-meter (80-inch) telescope planned on Haleakala by the UH with the Faulkes Telescope Corp. of England is an important step toward popularizing astronomy. It will be the world's largest telescope for education and scientific outreach.

The faculty also wants to develop a proposal for a 6- to 8-meter Earth Defense Telescope for Haleakala that's a high national priority, he said.

It would be used to identify asteroids and other near-earth objects moving in the sky, and variable objects in the universe.

Institute for
Astronomy open house

The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy will hold its second annual open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 28, at its Manoa headquarters, 2680 Woodlawn Dr.

The event is an example of the kind of outreach the new institute director, Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, is advocating.

"He is very supportive of education and the outreach kinds of things (astronomer) Karen Meech and I have been doing," said astronomer James Heasley.

"We need, as a university agency, to present ourselves and let the public know what we're doing."

He said the open house will "emphasize the kinds of programs we're starting or pursuing in terms of educational contributions outside of the regular university."

Scientists will give mini-lectures on subjects such as solar changes and the Earth's climate, the Mauna Kea telescopes, comets, colliding galaxies, X-ray astronomy, dark matter, jumbo stars and the outer solar system.

Sunspot viewing, comet-making, computer planetarium shows and tours of the machine shop and instrumentation laboratories will be featured.

Admission is free and free parking is available.

Ka Leo O Hawaii
University of Hawaii

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