Letter from the Director: June 2018

by John Mulchaey, Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director


Dear Friends,


As many of you know, I was asked by the Carnegie Board of Trustees in December to serve as Interim Co-President for the Carnegie Institution for Science along with my colleague Yixian Zheng, Director of Carnegie's Embryology Department. The last six months have been a great adventure for Yixian and me; we have had the chance to learn about all the facets of this great institution that ordinarily fall outside of our purview. The highlight for me has been the chance to interact with scientists in Carnegie's other departments. I've been quite impressed with the scope of Carnegie's science. The breadth and depth of our commitment to discovery is inspiring. While our scientific interests may be varied, there is one common characteristic among all this institution's scientistswe all cherish the scientific freedom we have at Carnegie. I truly believe there is no organization quite like us in the world. This same independent spirit of discovery spans our history. This month we are celebrating the 150th birthday of Observatories founder George Ellery Hale, whose vision of pushing into new frontiers of astronomy continues with our scientists today.

Although the Carnegie departments work across a range of topics, there are many places where our scientific interests overlap. Carnegie's Venture Grant program was designed to bring together scientists of different backgrounds to address new and interesting questions. This spring four such grants were approved including two that involve Observatories' scientists. For the first project, Andrew McWilliam and Johanna Teske will bring a new infrared spectrograph to our Magellan telescopes to try to detect molecules important for life in the atmospheres of exoplanets. Our second Venture Grant involves instrument builder Nick Konidaris, who is working with scientists at Carnegie's Department of Global Ecology to adopt new developments in spectroscopy to instruments that will map the structure of plants in forest canopies and can also be used at our telescopes at Las Campanas. Additionally, Juna Kollmeier and Guillermo Blanc won a Venture Grant last year to apply a new astronomical data extraction technique to optical astronomy data sets that are currently inaccessible.You can find more details about all of these projects elsewhere in this newsletter. The Venture Grant program is possible because of generous gifts by Carnegie trustee Michael Wilson and his wife, Jane, and the Monell Foundation. 

Last month, our Board of Trustees unanimously voted to appoint Dr. Eric Isaacs as the 11th President of the Carnegie Institution for Science. I was happy to serve on the presidential search committee that recommended Dr. Isaacs and am thrilled he will be joining Carnegie this July. I look forward to working with him in the coming years to continue to build on Carnegie's extensive scientific legacy. 



Dr. John Mulchaey

Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director

Carnegie Observatories



Illustration of exoplanets by Robin Dienel / Carnegie Institution for Science