Astroscience center to attract more than astronomy students

Photos by Ailys Toledo.

Ailys Toledo/Staff Writer

For more than a decade, students interested in astronomy have been confined to a small, limited patch of concrete located behind the Graham Center. This restricted space was used as an observatory for students and professors to gather information about cosmic and earthly occurrences.

“We finally have a building in FIU that’s dedicated to astronomy and the science to be able to know what’s beyond the earth,” said Astronomy Club President Andres Medina. Andres, a senior in physics and biomedical engineering, is looking forward to visiting the observatory with his friends.

Dr. James Webb, a professor in the physics department, has taken initiative in the creation and development of a new observatory. Since 1991, Webb has designed almost every aspect of the observatory, using inspiration from visits to multiple observatories, like the Imiloa Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, around the world.

The Stocker Astroscience Center is a four-floor structure, complete with a telescope control bridge and an original glass-tile mosaic by Clayton Bryant Young.  Webb said having the opportunity to construct a science center of this magnitude was a lifelong dream.

“It took a long time to come up with the money because the state canceled their program to match all donations,” said Webb. “But eventually we put it on the PECO list, where legislatures can vote on whether a university should be funded for a facility, and came up with the money.”

Webb also said that along with the assistance through a donation by Dr. Carl Stocker, a retired physics professor, the science center received close to $2.4 million from state and private funding.

The observatory was designed to appeal to students who already have an interest in astronomy, while reaching out to those who are not as involved.

“Half the part of science is getting people interested,” said Webb. “They are usually afraid of the math and physics involved, but if you get them interested, they learn about the math and physics issues that go along with it without even realizing it.”

“A place like this can do that for you,” said Webb.

“This will inspire other people to learn astronomy as a career and learn about space,” said Danielle Roberts, a senior physics major and treasurer of the astronomy club.  -6

The Stocker AstroScience Center has all the features of a legitimate observatory, built upon a separate foundation so that the vibrations do not disturb the telescopes on the top deck. Also located on the other floors are faculty offices, teaching labs and a student area.

“Without a facility, it’s like doing a chemistry lab in a bathroom. Sure, you’ve got the water and the drain, but it’s not very pleasant,” said Webb.

While most students who are not involved in the physics department are unaware of the observatory, the silver dome has caught the eye of passersby.

“I think that the AstroScience Center will be a really big step for progress for FIU, not only for the astronomy and physics department[s],” said Jennifer Medina, a sophomore physics major.

The Stocker AstroScience Center will host its grand opening Nov. 12-16, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and live music.

“It doesn’t look like any other building I have seen on campus,” said Doris Gonzalez, sophomore biology major, as she headed to the chemistry and physics building for class.  “I will definitely go inside it and check it out once it is open to the public.”

– ailys.toledo@fiusm.com

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