The National Science Foundation plans to build an educational center at the Arecibo Observatory
The U.S. National Science Foundation issued a solicitation on Thursday for a new multidisciplinary, world-class educational center at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, according to a statement by the organization. The center will serve as a hub for STEM education and outreach.
STEM programs and initiatives
“The center would expand upon existing education and outreach opportunities currently in place at the Arecibo Observatory site, while also implementing new STEM programs and initiatives. The new center is expected to open in 2023,” noted the solicitation.
“The scientific community has expressed broad support for an expanded educational facility. Specifically, the 2020 Decadal Survey for Astronomy and Astrophysics, or Astro2020, recognized that the observatory has, over the course of its nearly 60-year history, become a highly regarded part of the community for many of Puerto Rico's citizens, serving as a source of pride and local economic benefit while also providing access to training and employment for many in the community. Astro2020 called out support for its continuation as an important nexus for education, community, and developing a diversified STEM workforce.”
The unnamed new center is set to open sometime in 2023. It will have four goals:
- Promote STEM education, learning, and teaching.
- Support fundamental and applied STEM and STEM education research.
- Broaden participation in STEM.
- Build and leverage existing and new collaborations and partnerships.
The damaged observatory will not be rebuilt
This does however mean that the Arecibo Observatory damaged in 2020 will not be rebuilt. “The solicitation does not include rebuilding the 305-meter telescope or operational support for current scientific infrastructure, such as the 12-meter radio telescope or Lidar facility,” said the NSF’s statement.
The Arecibo Observatory was crucial to deep-space observation. It helped researchers search for deep-space objects and events like pulsars and bursts of distant radio waves. However, it suffered damage when an auxiliary cable fell in August of 2020, with another cable failing in November. The NSF, fearing that others might have followed, announced that it planned to demolish the observatory as it could not be rebuilt without risking human life. But before that could even happen, Arecibo collapsed. The NSF then launched an investigation into what may have happened which is still ongoing.
The new center initiative is consistent with guidance provided in the "CHIPS and Science Act". The act "encourages the National Science Foundation, in consultation with other Federal agencies, to explore opportunities for strengthening and expanding the role of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico through education, outreach, and diversity programs, and future research capabilities and technology at the site."
The NSF added that program directors will work with awardees that have ongoing NSF-funded activities at the Arecibo Observatory to ensure continuity of programs and that teams seeking to utilize existing scientific infrastructure or proposing for new projects can submit proposals that are complementary to the scope of the new center. All proposals will go through the standard NSF merit review process.
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