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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

On Campus
Astronomy institute gleaming

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The community has long known that the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Institute for Astronomy is one of the stars in its academic constellation, but it's a shinier star than we realized.

A document prepared for a peer review — the first overall assessment in almost 20 years — notes that the UH program is "second to Princeton" in number of "citations," and Princeton is the nation's top-ranked university. (The citation count is from 1999, the latest year for available figures.)

Caltech was third, Harvard fifth, MIT ninth, Columbia 16th and Yale 18th in the "Top 20" astronomy programs ranked by the National Research Council.

These "citations" are not speeding tickets, but instances in which scientists cite the work of others in their own research. While there are many ways to measure the quality of a university program, comparing the number of peer citations received for its research is considered one of the best.

That's not all. The Institute for Astronomy also ranks second to Princeton for "high impact papers."

"Our second-place rank in total citations is not simply because we produce a large number of rarely cited papers, but is due to the fact a substantial number of our research papers are very highly cited by our peers — an equally important testament to the quality of our research," notes Gareth Wynn-Williams, chairman of the Astronomy Graduate Program. It's these highly cited papers that are used to count "high impact," he said.

The outside review of the department comes a year after Rolf Kudritzki joined as director, and is something he has actively sought.

"There should be a review every five years," said Kudritzki. "There should be a critical assessment of our capabilities and what we do here and the strength of our program. It's very constructive."

Kudritzki said a major strength of the department is its research, much of it based on use of the telescopes atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island. The review committee, headed by Harvard professor John P. Huchra, advised the department to continue strengthening research and teaching activities on the Neighbor Islands.

That's happening. A new facility in Hilo, close to the UH-Hilo campus, provides sumptuous additional laboratory space and a mechanical workshop, all part of the proposal to build up Technology Centers in Hilo and Kula, Maui.

"We have shifted a significant part of our institute to Hilo," said Kudritzki. "It makes a lot of sense. It's closer (to Mauna Kea.) And I want to start new things over there in the direction of telescope technology."

A similar surge of activity is occurring on Maui, with the imminent construction of the Faulkes telescope — called the largest in the world for educational use. The telescope should be ready for use next year.

"Hawai'i school students will be able to use the telescope via the Internet right in their classroom," said Kudritzki.

Hawai'i students will be joined by British students who will also use it via the Internet. The $8 million telescope is being financed primarily by a donor from Great Britain, making the United States and England partners in the project.

The review committee spent a week in Hawai'i and expects to have its report for President Evan Dobelle completed shortly, said Kudritzki. Their informal analysis? "They were impressed," said Kudritzki.