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Ramsey Appointed an Eberly College of Science Distinguished Senior Scholar at Penn State

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17 January 2012

Lawrence W. Ramsey, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and a former head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, has been honored at the University with the title of Eberly College of Science Distinguished Senior Scholar. The honor is given in recognition of a sustained record of extraordinary achievement in research and education. Holders of this position have had a profound effect on their fields through creative innovation and internationally acclaimed scientific leadership, and have had exceptional accomplishments in teaching and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students.

Ramsey is known worldwide for his pioneering work in fiber-optic astronomical instrumentation as well as for his leadership in the development and operation of a number of astronomical observatories. In April 2010, he was appointed as chairman of the board of directors of the Gemini Observatory, which is operated by a partnership of seven countries and consists of twin 8.1-meter-diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on mountains in Hawaii and Chile -- two of the best observing sites on Earth. Ramsey also serves on the boards of directors or advisory councils of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the South African Large Telescope (SALT), and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Ramsey played a major role as the project scientist for one of the largest telescopes in the world, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which is located in Texas and is operated jointly by Penn State and four other partner universities. In 1983, Ramsey invented the concept for this telescope along with Daniel W. Weedman, also a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State at that time. Since then, Ramsey has been intensely involved in the design, construction, operation, and management of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which saw its first starlight in 1996 and which was one of three finalists for the 1997 Discovery Magazine Award for Technological Innovation. In fact, the design of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope so dramatically reduces costs that it immediately opened the door to a new construction era for such large-sized telescopes. In June 1998, for example, the government of South Africa approved the construction of the South African Large Telescope (SALT), the first clone of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Ramsey now serves on the board of directors of SALT, which saw its first starlight in November 2003.

Ramsey currently is working with faculty colleague Suvrath Mahadevan on the development and construction of a new instrument for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to search for and characterize potentially habitable extrasolar planets around the coolest stars in our galaxy.

"Ramsey's innovations in telescope design and applications of fiber optics have had enormous impacts on observational astronomy over the last three decades," noted Donald Schneider, head of Penn State's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. "In addition, he has performed ground-breaking research in stellar activity and the study of infrared radiation from stars."

Ramsey's other honors include a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Alumni Society of St. Louis University in 2001 and a Distinguished Service Award from the Penn State Eberly College of Science in 1997. He has published more than seventy scientific papers in refereed journals and has contributed to many conference proceedings and books. He has supervised fourteen graduate students and a dozen undergraduate honors projects; has developed undergraduate and graduate courses; and has presented numerous seminars at national and international conferences, universities, and research laboratories.

In addition to serving as a board member for various telescopes and observatories, Ramsey is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the International Astronomical Union.

Ramsey began his professional career in 1966 as an aircraft and spacecraft simulation-systems engineer at McDonnell Douglas Corporation -- a major aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor located in Missouri. His work in this position involved the training of astronauts for NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs. In 1970, he became a research assistant at what is now the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona.

Ramsey received a bachelor's degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Missouri at St. Louis in 1968, a master's degree in physics from Kansas State University in 1972, and a doctoral degree in astronomy from Indiana University in 1976. After joining the Penn State faculty in 1976, Ramsey was promoted to associate professor in 1982, and to professor in 1988. He served as interim head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics from 1999 to 2000 and as head of the department from 2003 to 2011.

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