Press and News

$20 Million Gift Helps Push UA Closer to the Stars

TUCSON, Ariz. — A gift of $20 million from Richard F. Caris will support the University of Arizona’s participation in the Giant Magellan Telescope Observatory. The UA is one of eleven institutions that have joined forces to build the GMT, a 25-meter telescope with 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 GMT will be located in Chile.

“We are grateful that Richard F. Caris has provided this generous gift to the UA, which will support our participation in the GMT, a critically important effort in the space sciences,” said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. “Mr. Caris has been an ardent supporter of the university for more than a decade and his contributions have helped establish the UA’s international prominence in astronomical research.”

Richard Caris is the founder and chairman of Interface Inc., a high-tech company in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a world leader in load cell force measurement applications, including the custom mirror-cell support systems in the telescopes that the UA has helped construct, such as the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona.

Caris has been involved with the Arizona Astronomy Board, through the Department of Astronomy and the Steward Observatory, for more than 10 years. He has previously given more than $2 million to fund the primary/tertiary mirror for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope that will also be built in Chile, and through the UA Foundation has given to the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter and the UA Sky School.

“Higher education and big science are deeply important to Mr. Caris,” said Sid Leach, chairman of the Arizona Astronomy Board and a personal friend of Caris’. “Richard is so humble about his achievements and the company he built for more than half a century, but I know how much supporting the UA’s Department of Astronomy and the GMT means to him.”

This latest gift supports the UA’s initial $60 million commitment of funds toward the construction of GMT, ensuring UA astronomers will have access to valuable observing time on the landmark telescope, which is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

In recognition of the gift, the UA’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, which will provide GMT with all eight of its primary mirror segments, will be renamed the “Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.” Under the leadership of its director, UA Regents’ Professor Roger P. Angel, the mirror lab has earned worldwide recognition for producing giant, lightweight mirrors of unprecedented power for a new generation of optical and infrared telescopes. Each of the mirrors produced at the UA for the GMT is round and 8.4 meters in diameter. Seven will be used at one time in the telescope to combine into a primary segmented mirror effectively 25 meters in diameter, with one kept as a spare. The mirror lab has had a long-standing partnership with Interface, Inc., whose load cells have supported many mirrors during the polishing phase.

“This gift is transformational in that it not only moves the GMT project forward, but also UA’s astronomy endeavor as a whole,” said Buell Jannuzi, head of the UA Department of Astronomy and director of Steward Observatory. “Through the technology developed at our mirror lab, the UA enables the GMT to happen in the first place. This gift enables the UA to continue at the forefront of astronomical research through access to the telescope’s unprecedented capabilities.

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be constructed at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, where it will operate synergistically with other astronomical instruments and surveys. The instrument is designed to observe for more than 50 years and will help answer some of humanity’s most fundamental questions, including whether life exists on other planets and how the universe began. Astronomers also will use it to better understand how planets and galaxies form and to help find answers to the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, said: “The mirror lab is unquestionably one of the innovation jewels of our University. The lab is known around the world for creating the largest mirrors for astronomical use. It is fitting that it will now have the name of Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, as Mr. Caris is also an innovator with a very successful company in our state.”

Through its Arizona NOW Campaign, the University of Arizona Foundation has raised more than $1 billion toward the $1.5 billion goal. Caris’ gift for the GMT supports all of the campaign’s key initiatives, including academic research, the engagement of students, and expanding the UA’s global impact.

“It takes a special person to build a global company and then apply that same scale to his philanthropy,” said James H. Moore, Jr., president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. “Mr. Caris may be supporting the Department of Astronomy at the UA, but his influence on big science, and the exploration of our universe, stretches well beyond our university’s boundaries.”

The following organizations and institutions are participating with the UA in the GMT project: Astronomy Australia Ltd., The Australian National University, Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, The University of Chicago, The University of Texas at Austin, and Universidade de São Paulo.


University of Arizona Press Release


Daniel Stolte
University Relations – Communications

Daniel Petrocelli
Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory