The FCRAO was founded in 1969 by the University of Massachusetts, together with Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College. From its inception, the Observatory has emphasized pioneering research, the development of state- of-the-art technology and the training of students -- both graduate and undergraduate. The initial telescope of FCRAO was a customized low frequency antenna to search for pulsars in the Galaxy. The development of instrumentation within the FCRAO labs contributed to the discovery of the binary pulsar system PSR 1913+16 by Joe Taylor and Russel Hulse and for which they received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The original low frequency telescope was superseded in 1976 by a 14-m diameter radome-enclosed antenna for use at high radio frequencies (mm wavelengths), built primarily to study the physics and chemistry of interstellar clouds, circumstellar envelopes, planetary atmospheres, and comets.
The history of scientific research at the FCRAO 14m telescope has paralleled the evolution of millimeter-wave astronomy. Initially, the science was in a period of discovery, triggered by the remarkable detection of CO in 1970 and the follow-up work which defined the nature of the molecular interstellar medium. Today, we focus our effort on the study of objects which are now familiar and attempt to learn their secrets. We found that stars are formed in molecular clouds, but today we seek to understand how this occurs. We discovered an incredible chemical complexity and diversity in these clouds, and today we seek to explain the origin of this chemistry and understand its implications. We learned that molecular clouds are an important phase of the interstellar medium in our own galaxy and in external ones, but today we seek a better understanding of the role that these clouds play in galactic evolution.
A key aspect of ``understanding'' the nature and role of objects that define the molecular interstellar medium is to place them in a temporal context. For example, the field of stellar astronomy significantly advanced when it was recognized that different types of stars are actually stars at different stages in their evolution. This knowledge did not come about by studying the brightest stars in the sky, or the stars with the most obvious spectral lines, or the stars that were the closest to the Earth. The knowledge resulted from the development of instrumentation that allowed broad surveys of the stars and enabled stars in all evolutionary states to be characterized. Evolutionary questions about the molecular ISM require a similar treatment. The research program at the FCRAO 14m telescope has emphasized the development of focal plane array instrumentation and observing programs that address these issues.
The operation of the 14m telescope with a strong scientific focus and a commitment to key survey projects allows unique scientific investigations and provides excellent research opportunities for students in astronomy and instrumentation. Thus, we believe that our focus on evolutionary questions is aligned with the traditional objective of FCRAO for excellence in three major areas: astronomical research, instrumentation and education of students. We believe that the commitment to excellence in all three areas is vital to the success of university-based observatories like our own and that the achievements of such facilities are crucial to the future of American science.
Funding for the Quabbin facility comes from the NSF and from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.While the 14 meter telescope is the current platform for research and instrumentation efforts, the future platform is the Large Millimeter Telescope/Gran Telescopio Milimetrico (LMT/GTM). The LMT/GTM is a joint project between the University of Massachusetts and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica, Optica y Electronica in Puebla, Mexico to construct and operate a 50 meter telescope between 1 and 3mm. This new facility will enable observational studies of protogalaxies, the cosmic background radiation, and detailed studies of the molecular interstellar medium and star formation inthe Milky Way.
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