May 15

Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium Approved as New Member of AURA

Vassar College astronomy studentsVassar Professor of Astronomy Debra Elmegreen with Brittany Tompkins ’17 (right) and Leah Jenks (left)

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) welcomes the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) as a new member institution of AURA, a consortium of US institutions and international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories on behalf of NASA and the NSF. The KNAC application to join AURA was approved by AURA’s Member Representatives at its recent annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona.

KNAC is a group of eight liberal arts colleges in the northeast with strong small astronomy programs that have collaborated for a quarter of a century to improve undergraduate education for astronomy students. Although originally funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation, KNAC is now funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), under their Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. The members are: Colgate, Haverford (including partnership with Bryn Mawr), Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan and Williams. KNAC was founded primarily with the intention of enhancing research opportunities for undergraduates at liberal arts colleges where astronomy was already taught, but also to facilitate research and pedagogical exchange among faculty.

“We warmly welcome the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium to AURA,” said Dr. Matt Mountain, President of AURA. “KNAC offers AURA an exciting opportunity to expand our membership to a powerful consortium of Colleges with a collective faculty deeply committed to undergraduate education and astronomical research.”

AURA was founded in 1957 by a group of U.S. universities to create astronomical observing facilities available for use by all qualified researchers from U.S. institutions and universities on the basis of scientific merit. AURA’s role, that it carries out through its five centers, is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. AURA’s Space Telescope Science Institute is responsible for the science mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, the science and operations for the James Webb Space Telescope, and the MAST data archive. AURA’s nighttime ground-based facilities include the Gemini Observatories, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) under construction in Chile, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). The National Solar Observatory (NSO) is AURA’s solar center and is managing the construction of the DKIST Solar Telescope in Hawai’i.

Within the KNAC schools, there are currently 25 permanent faculty or staff members and 2 postdocs engaged in astronomical or related research. Over the last 25 years, the Consortium faculty members have mentored about 620 undergraduate student research projects, including both summer and academic year exercises.

Debra Elmegreen, Chair of the AURA Board and a member of the KNAC consortium (as a faculty member at Vassar College), noted that “the KNAC faculty members are very excited to be accepted as a Member Institution of AURA, since many of them have spent a large part of their careers using facilities at the AURA Centers. They are happy to have a voice among the Member Representatives as the community collectively works towards planning, enhancing, and advancing astronomical research through the AURA Centers.”

AURA looks forward to our future partnership with KNAC, as we work together to enable astronomical discovery and promote broad engagement in exploring the Universe