Saturday, July 18, 2009

The McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors

This weekend, I am back in West Texas at the McDonald Observatory for a meeting of the Board of Visitors, or BoV for short.

The BoV is a group of donors to the observatory, and it is a veritable Who's Who of Texans. At this meeting I have seen Former Bush advisor Karl Rove, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Wallace Jefferson, and University of Texas Chancellor Dr. Francisco Cigarro, among others. The BoV has two meetings a year, a summer meeting here at the observatory, and a winter meeting in Austin.

This is the first meeting of the BoV I've attended; I was asked to give a short talk about my white dwarf discoveries I've made here at the Observatory. A graduate student, Amanda Bayless, gave a good talk about her work on black holes, and research scientist Mike Endl talked about finding planets around other stars with the McDonald telescopes. This afternoon the BoV members are watching demonstrations on the telescopes, touring some of the natural wonders of West Texas, or shopping in Marfa. And most of us astronomers are sitting in the astronomer's lodge over cups of strong coffee, admiring the freshly-painted dome of the Harlan J Smith telescope.

The BoV is really a marvellous group. They donate their money and time to support astronomy research, and they really care about the scientists as well as the science. (This used to be somewhat surprising to me, given the personal politics of some BoV members, but in spite of political differences I may have with individuals, I appreciate their support.) The BoV donations are helping to build new instruments for the telescopes, they support scholarships and endowed professorships, they support scientific meetings, and they use their influence to encourage the Texas legislature to support the University and the Observatory. Every member I've talked to is deeply interested in the science of astronomy, and they have very insightful questions about the Universe and our place in it. The BoV is the lifeblood of Texan astronomy.

Tonight there are a few more talks and a wonderful dinner prepared by the Observatory staff, followed by star gazing and telescope viewing. It should be a blast!

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