June 6th, 2013

Astronomy gets nine new computers

The campaign at work

Room 606 in the College of Arts & Sciences Astronomy Department is the home of computers devoted to instruction in a number of astronomy classes. They play a critical role: enabling real-time data analysis by the undergraduates and graduate students who operate the telescopes on the roof of the CAS building during nighttime observational astronomy labs.

But by the beginning of the 2012–2013 academic year, those 10-year-old computers were nearing the end of their useful lives. Students dealt daily with the frustrations of looking at indistinct images on the monitors and enduring agonizingly slow data downloads. The machines were wearing out, and replacement parts were no longer available. There was no simple solution in sight.

Enter David S. Katz (CAS’80, LAW’85). Learning of the urgent need for new astronomy computers, he made a generous gift that—when matched by funds from CAS—covered the cost of nine brand-new computers, monitors, and universal power supplies for the lab. Students can now access data far more easily, download large files in a flash, view detailed images, and share data across programs and users.

“Think of the new computers as moving our students out of the dial-up realm and into the high-speed realm,” says Astronomy Professor John Clarke, director of the astronomy lab. “They make a huge difference.”

BU’s astronomy department is one of the largest in the country, with 40 undergraduate and 35 to 40 graduate students pursuing astronomy degrees each year. The department consistently ranks in the country’s top 10 programs, along with the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, and others.

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