University of Rochester

$400,000 Comes to Local Universities to Develop Space-Borne Camera

August 16, 2005

Gov. George Pataki has announced a $200,000 award to researchers at the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology to help develop technologies for future space-borne telescopes like the Hubble, as well as commercial and military payloads. The award will be matched by $200,000 from ITT, which is working with both institutions to commercialize the astronomical equipment. The collaboration of universities and ITT was organized in part by the Center of Electronic Imaging Systems (CEIS), which benefits the state's economy by matching the researchers at the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology with New York State and Rochester region businesses.

"We're using the expertise we gained from the development of NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to design and create new technologies for future space cameras," says Judith Pipher, professor emerita of physics at the University of Rochester, and principal investigator of the project.

Pipher and William Forrest, professor of astronomy and her colleague on the new project, were the first U.S. astronomers to turn an infrared array toward the skies, putting the University on the map as home to one of the world's strongest programs in infrared astronomy. In 1983, Pipher and Forrest had mounted a prototype infrared detector onto the University telescope in the small observatory on top of the Wilmot Building on campus, taking the first-ever telescopic infrared pictures of the moon. In that same year, NASA sent out word that it was looking for scientists to help build Spitzer, an infrared space telescope, and within just a few months Pipher and Forrest were evaluating and testing Spitzer's infrared detectors.

ITT is supporting the project in order to grow its presence in the space imaging business, which includes clients such as NASA and the Department of Defense. ITT Industries Space Systems Division was formed in August 2004 through the acquisition of Eastman Kodak's Commercial and Government Systems Division. This aerospace business has grown significantly in the past five years, effectively doubling in size to the present 2,600 employees, most residing in Rochester area. Commercialization of the new technologies has a high potential for job growth in the Rochester area, where 90 percent of such payloads, which range in cost from $50 million to $250 million, would be built.

The mission of CEIS is to benefit the state's economy by matching the researchers with local businesses. The center, headquartered at the University of Rochester, looks for a good fit between the work a researcher is doing in the lab and work that is needed by local companies, and helps facilitate a sharing of knowledge and resources. The businesses benefit by receiving cutting-edge research, while the scientists benefit by having additional funding to carry out their research.

The grant is given by NYSTAR, which is designed to make New York a national leader in high-technology academic research and economic development.