A Brief History of the FIU Observatory

1991: The new “Observing pad”

The physics department moved from the second floor of the Owa Ehan (OE)building to the newly built Chemistry and Physics building (CP). The CP building had an "observing pad" on the roof, essentially a thick cement pad about 15' x 40' with a wall around it to separate it from the rest of the building and a small storage room to store the telescopes. Dr. Webb wrote several small college grants to fund the installation of air conditioning in the storage room, install permanent piers for the eight C-8 telescopes, and install electricity to the piers to power the telescope clock drives. In addition, Dr. Webb and Dr. Ken Hardy designed and installed light blinds around the observing pad perimeter to block out stray light from the surrounding buildings.

1995: The demise of the “Observing pad” on CP

Roof and air handling modifications to the CP laboratories included the installation of large vent stacks around the observing pad that had motors which caused constant vibrations in the observing pad. Also,the fume hoods vented toxic chemicals from the chemistry labs right onto the observing pad! Thus the observing pad was unusable from that moment on.

1999 - The ground “Observing Pad”

The astronomy night labs were held out in the lawn after the demise of the CP observing pad. In 1999, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, then provost of FIU, funded the construction of an observing pad located in the northeast corner of the CP lawn. This pad, designed by Dr. Webb, was roughly 10' x 40' cement slab surrounded on three sides by a chain link fence with metal slats to block out ground light. To further isolate the pad, a thick hedge was planted around the pad. Permanent piers and electrical power allowed operation of the night labs.

2005 – “Guitars under the Stars” fund raiser.

In an attempt to raise money to build FIU's first real observatory, Dr. Webb organized the "Guitars under the Stars" fundraiser. It was held on a beautifully clear evening at the FIU conference center on the North Miami campus. The evening was hosted by Dr. Webb and featured great food, music by Rod McDonald and Fabio Zini, and a talk about the importance of the observatory to FIU students. Telescopes were set up overlooking Biscayne bay and attendees viewed Saturn and many other astronomical objects during the evening. The evening raised $20,000 and a promise from then FIU president Mitch Maidique to match any funds Dr. Webb could subsequently raise for the observatory. The original donation would also be matched by the State of Florida Cortellis matching grant program. Unfortunately this grant program was discontinued before the match could be requested.

2006 – Magazine article in the VIP Miami Guide

The popular upscale magazine, VIP Guide Miami featured an article on the observatory problem. It came about as writer Riki Altman visited to interview Dr. Webb about astronomy, but was so captivated by the observatory problem she decided to focus on the need for an observatory for FIU students. Please see Space Seeker for the article by Riki Altman.

2007 - The Imiloa Connection

In January of 2007, Dr. Webb visited Hawaii to attend the American Astronomical Society annual convention taking place in Honolulu, in and presented a research paper there. While in Hawaii, he flew to Hilo on the big Island to visit Mauna Kea's Gemini Observatory. While in Hilo, he learned about the new 24 million dollar Imiloa science center which had just opened. When Dr. Webb entered the building, he was greeted by the 16-ft glass tile floor mural of an original painting by artist Clayton Bryant Young linking Hawaiian Oceanic culture with astronomy. He was so impressed with the amazing floor mural, he immediately found someone working there, and expounded about the exquisite mosaic. That someone turned out that the artist, Clayton Bryant Young, who was still working for the museum! Dr. Webb related the struggle for an observatory at FIU, and Mr. Young told him to "Give me a call" when the observatory was going to be built and that he was interested in doing an original painting for the FIU student observatory. You can visit the Imiloa science center at Imiloa Science Center and Clayton Young's web site at: Clayton Young Studios

2007 – The Major Donation

Dr. Carl Stocker, a retired physics teacher, saw the article "Space Seeker" written by Ms. Altman, and was inspired to contact Dr. Webb. Dr. Stocker provided the principle Donation for the observatory.

2008 - The PECO List

University's match and the State's match were added to the State PECO list

2009 - The Second Ground Observing Pad

The original Observing pad was replaced by an identical observing pad in the lawn in front of the Graham center ball room in 2009 because the new nursing building necessitated the demolition of the first one.

2010 – The PECO Funds arrive

The Stocker AstroScience funds were pushed through the PECO process by Steve Sauls, FIU president Mark Rosenberg, and legislature. Fully funded at $2.4 million, a committee chaired by Dr. Webb was convened and a “facility definition document” was written. The document included a sketch of the facility conceived by Dr. Webb and is constructed first and foremost as a stable observing platform for the night labs. This document was used by the architects to design the building. Dr. Webb spent the 15 years while searching for funding for the observatory visiting other on-campus observatories around the country and taking "notes". Many of the outstanding features from these observatories were incorporated into the Stocker AstroScience center design. These features included the Exhibition hall/Entry room similar to the Holcomb Observatory (Butler university) and the glass mosaic tile floor of an original painting in the entryway (from the 'Imiloa Science center Hawaii).

2010 – Sixteen architecture firms bid to design the observatory.

Siddiq Khan and Associates, led by Tim Khan who also happens to be an excellent astro-photographer and a member of the local Southern Cross Astronomical Society, are the lead structural designers and mechanical engineers responsible for the project. Portuondo-Perriti Architects are the lead architects.

2011 - Artwork for the AstroScience Center

Dr. Webb looked up and called Clayton Young, and asked him to do a painting that would be turned into a 6' glass tile mural for the new Stocker AstroScience center. Mr. Young began painting an original piece for the FIU observatory entry Way/Exhibition hall. he painting can be seen in an image under "Latest Images" category of this page.

2011 - Plans Completed

Completed the plans for the Stocker AstroScience center were received the day before Christmas, 2011.

2012 - Official Groundbreaking

roundbreaking was held on February 21, 2012 at 11:00 am. Associate Dean Nicol Rae presided and our benefactor Dr. Stocker and his daughters were present at the ceremony. Please go to the "latest pictures" page to see some pictures of the ground-breaking ceremony

2012 - Artwork Finished, Site preparation begins

Clayton Bryant Young finishes the painting for the Observatory glass tile mural. Site preparation began on April 13th by Stobs Bros. By June 15th, about 60% of site preparations are finished. Two tech fee proposals were funded on June 22, one for the electronics for the control room and lab room, and the other for the main telescope.

2012 - October - Building begins and concrete poured.

Stobs Brothers construction company begins construction. The foundation is dug, forms and rebar installed, and concrete is poured for the footers of the Stocker Astroscience center foundation. Dr. Webb is taking a photograph of the site from the same location every day to eventually make a construction cam video for the new building.

2013 - January - First floor shell built, rising to the sky

The first floor shell is built, and the second floor construction begins. ACE 24" telescope ordered. Electronics for the control room determined and prepared to be ordered.

2013 - May - Building shell completed! Interior buildout continues.

The outer concrete shell, including the roof observing pad and the observing room on top have been completed. The steel framework upon which the telescope pier will be mounted, was welded together in place. The inner structure of the interior walls, the plumbing, and the electrical connections are already installed.

2013 - November - Ribbon cutting ceremony

The ribbon cutting event for the Stocker Astroscience center was held. Unfortunately the building was not finished at the time and was three months overdue for completion. The ceremony was held anyway, outside of the building and we were able to tour the 1st 2nd and observing pad floors. Dr. John Mather (Nobel prize in physics 2006 and PI of the JWST) was our guest of honor. The ceremony was spectacular with comments from Dr. Webb, Dr. Maidique, Dr. Mather, Dr. Ken Furton (Dean of Arts & Sciences), and Donor Carl Stocker. Neither the tile floor in the exhibition hall nor the control room electronics were installed at the time. Most of the opening week events had to be cancelled since the observatory was not finished. However, a very special week of events still went on. Below is a synopsis of the opening week events.

Ribbon cutting ceremony - 10:00 am November 12.

The History of the Universe - Dr. John Mather 3:30-4:30 Novenber 12.

Live music at the Stocker Astoscience Center featuring: Jim Webb, Tom Barnello, Jennings and Keller, Ted Miller, Ros MacDonald, Grant Livingston, and Marivanna. - 6:00 - 9:00pm November 14.

Russell Romanella, NASA Day Presentation. - 8:00 November 15.

2014 - January 8th

Astronomers moved into the Stocker AstroScience center and classes were held for the first time in the building. Work continued on the control room electronics, and also on the downstairs projection equipment.

2014 - January 12th

The first ever public star party at the Observatory. The event attracted over 150 students,faculty, alumni, and people from the community. It was a huge success. Dr. Webb installed the 12-inch Meade telescope in the dome and took tours into the dome and the nearly finished control room.

2014 January 24th

The "Star Trek Bridge" control room lifted off, connecting to SARA North and SARA South and observing several Messier objects for astronomy classes. In addition, over 100 images of several Southern hemisphere Blazars were obtained for Dr. Webb's research program. The control room operated efficiently and exactly as designed.

2014 July 16th

The Stocker Astroscience center is officially certified as LEED Silver.

2014 September 20th

The Stocker Astroscience "Picture of the Week" is established with a new astronomy picture featured every week.

2014 October 25th

The ACE 24" telescope arrives on Saturday morning along with a flatbed trailer filled with equipment and parts. A crane arrived and hoisted the telescope and pier up nearly 6 stories, then carefully lowered it into the dome through the opened slit.

2014 October 26th through November 14th

During the next three weeks, Peter Mack of ACE, Dr. Webb of FIU, and Patrick Ford (FIU student) worked on installing the telescope and getting the cameras working.

2014 November 16th

The telescope produces amazing images with its piggy back CCD camera. Regular use begins from November through January. (See the Stocker Picture of the day for images from the telescope).

2015 October 21

White House Astronomy Night - The Center was standing room only with 200 astronomy enthusiasts — including FIU students, Booker T. Washington Senior High School students, teachers and astroscience center donor Carl Stocker — who filled the observatory to watch President Obama’s remarks from the White House.

2015 December

Canary Islands Telescope Expands Night Sky for FIU Astronomers - An agreement between the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA), a consortium of 12 universities including FIU, and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) has reactivated the Jacobus Kapteyn telescope (JKT) in the Canary Islands.

The acquisition of the SARA JKT gives FIU astronomers a remotely operable telescope at one of the best observing sites for optical astronomy in the world — the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos which hosts about 20 telescopes on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma.