Guenther Hasinger, director of the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), really impresses me.
I first met him when I sat on the selection committee for the new IfA director. On that committee, I was looking for someone who would understand us here on the Big Island, and who would advocate for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo astronomy department.
Hasinger just announced that undergraduate students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH) will get viewing time at Mauna Kea observatories for the first time, up to 16 nights per year.
You can read more about this in Saturday’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald:
Guenther Hasinger, IfA director, said it’s unusual for an undergraduate astronomy program to be granted dedicated viewing time. Typically, observing time is reserved based solely on the caliber of research.
But few programs sit at the bottom of one of the world’s top telescope sites.
“From my point of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong astronomy program in Hilo,” Hasinger said.
“We want to ground the telescopes in the community.”
He impresses me for several reasons.
First of all, he was scientific director at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics near Munich, and received numerous awards for his research and contributions to space science. These include Germany’s most significant research prize and the international Committee on Space Research award.
Also, he wrote a book called Das Schicksal des Universums (Fate of the Universe), which explains astrophysics and cosmology to a wide audience. It won the Science Book of the Year award in Germany and was popular in Europe. I asked him how he did it. How does an astronomer write a book that’s popular with the general public? He told me he can relate to the average person. Right there I thought, “This is the guy for the IfA.”
And furthermore, before he applied for the IfA position, he went to a ceremony at Halema‘uma‘u to show respect. He didn’t talk about it in his official presentation; we had to drag it out of him.
Historically, the IfA is O‘ahu-centric. And here on the Big Island, we’ve always had to fight for anything we get. With Dr. Hasinger, we have someone who is respectful of the Big Island.
Hasinger advocates for growing the UH-Hilo Astronomy department.
“From my point of view, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong astronomy program in Hilo,” he said in the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald article.
Read the University of Hawai‘i Memo of Understanding about this change here: