The longtime supporter of the UA's astronomy department donated $20 million last December, backing the University's role in building the Giant Magellan Telescope.
An impactful, $20 million gift supporting the University of Arizona's partnership in the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope has been formally recognized with the renaming of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab.
The lab, built in 1980 and located underneath the east wing of Arizona Stadium, is now officially the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab in honor of the gift by Caris, the founder and chairman of Interface Inc. A high-tech company in Scottsdale, Arizona, Interface is a world leader in load cell force measurement applications, including the custom mirror-cell support systems in telescopes that the UA has helped construct, such as the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona.
For more than a decade, Caris has been involved with the Arizona Astronomy Board, an advisory and philanthropic support panel for the UA Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. He previously gave more than $2 million to fund the primary/tertiary mirror for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, currently under construction in northern Chile, and through the UA Foundation he has given to the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and the UA Sky School.
The Caris gift was announced last December. It supports the UA's $60 million commitment to the GMT project, which will ensure access for UA astronomers to valuable observing time on the landmark telescope, scheduled to be completed in 2021 in Chile's Atacama Desert.
"We really can start to answer the question of 'Are we alone in the universe?' with an instrument like the GMT," said Laird Close, a UA professor of astronomy. "We might actually have a real answer in the next decade."
Under the leadership of its director, UA Regents' Professor Roger P. Angel, the mirror lab has earned international recognition for producing giant, lightweight mirrors of unprecedented power for a new generation of optical and infrared telescopes. Without the continued advancements made through the lab, groundbreaking projects such as the Large Binocular Telescope would not have been possible.
The UA is one of 11 institutions that have joined forces to build the GMT, expected to have more than six times the light-gathering area of the largest telescopes in existence today and 10 times the resolution of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The fourth (and central) mirror is currently being cast at the UA lab.
"The University's participation in the GMT is incredibly important," UA President Ann Weaver Hart said at the ceremony celebrating the Caris gift and lab's renaming. "We have one of the finest astronomy departments in the world, and we want to participate in looking to the outer reaches of the universe."
Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, called the GMT "a big-deal endeavor," and Sid Leach, chair of the Arizona Astronomy Board, praised Caris as a difference maker.
The construction of the GMT, Leach said, "will help pave the way for future discoveries that we can only speculate about."