Carnegie’s Patrick McCarthy, Giant Magellan Telescope Vice President, appointed director of NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory

Pasadena, CA—Carnegie astronomer and Vice President of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), Patrick McCarthy, has been appointed as the first Director of the National Science Foundation’s newly formed National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NSF’s OIR Lab).

McCarthy has been a member of the GMT project since its inception 15 years ago, helping to bring it from a sketch on a napkin to a 100-plus person organization with 12 U.S. and international partners. In 2008, 20 years into his tenure at Carnegie, McCarthy officially expanded his role when he accepted his current leadership position at GMT.

Working with then-Carnegie Observatories Director Wendy Freedman, others at Carnegie, and the other GMT partner organizations, McCarthy helped marshal the telescope to a preliminary design review in 2014, paving the way for the GMTO Board to secure more than $500 million in initial construction funding from the project’s founding partners in 2015. His single-minded commitment to articulating the scientific need to build the next-generation optical-infrared telescope for the astronomical community has been key to the project’s success to date.

As well as being an accomplished project leader, McCarthy is a well-known and respected astronomer whose expertise is in the formation and evolution of very distant galaxies, seeking to understand how the first generation formed and what they can teach us about the diversity of populations of younger galaxies.

McCarthy says part of his motivation in taking on the directorship of NSF’s OIR Lab is his desire to craft a vision for a strong and unified national center built around NSF’s current flagship night-time optical astronomy assets— Kitt Peak National Observatory, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Gemini Observatory, and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. 

His role will also involve leadership in the US ELT Program, a national-level partnership among GMT, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which was created to strengthen U.S. scientific leadership through access to extremely large telescopes in the northern and southern hemispheres.

He said: “the organizational, technical and scientific leadership of the GMT is stronger than ever. I am energized by the opportunity to contribute more to the growth of U.S. astronomy in my new role, while continuing to vigorously support the US ELT program.”

“We are appreciative of Pat’s dedication to the field of astronomy and for his long-standing commitment to shepherding the Giant Magellan Telescope,” said Carnegie President Eric D. Isaacs. “I am confident that Pat will bring the same quality of leadership, creativity, and vision to his new position that he brought to Carnegie and to GMT.” 

“It has been a great privilege to work with Pat during my time at GMTO and I look forward to continuing a productive partnership with Pat when he is fully immersed in his new position,” said Robert Shelton, President of GMTO. “Pat’s leadership and vision from the formulative, conceptual years of GMTO to the present have been critical to our success and progress.”

Chair of the GMTO Board of Directors, Walter Massey, said, “With Dr. McCarthy’s leadership of this important NSF-funded center, I am confident that the future of U.S. optical-infrared astronomy is in good hands.”

McCarthy will begin his five-year appointment with the OIR Lab on October 1 and, as part of a transition plan, will split his time between Tucson, Arizona, where the OIR Lab is headquartered, and Pasadena, California, where he will continue to work closely with the team at the GMT as the 2020 Astronomy & Astrophysics Decadal Survey process moves to completion.

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About the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory:

NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory is the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy. Its mission is to enable breakthrough discoveries in ground-based optical-infrared astronomy and astrophysics. The National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory operates the Gemini Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Operations. It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona.

About the Giant Magellan Telescope:

The Giant Magellan Telescope is a next generation ground-based telescope that promises to revolutionize our understanding and view of the universe. The GMT is poised to enable breakthrough discoveries in cosmology, the study of black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and the search for life beyond our solar system. The telescope’s primary mirror combines seven 8.4-meter (27 feet) diameter circular segments to form an effective aperture 24.5 meters in diameter. The GMT will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert and the project is the work of a distinguished international consortium of leading universities and science institutions. Funding for the project comes from the partner institutions, governments and private donors.

About Carnegie:

The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.