Symposium on Future U.S. Ground-based Astronomy in the Global Context

Interacting Galaxy NGC 5331 Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)Interacting Galaxy NGC 5331 Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

Kavli Futures Symposium XII

Symposium on Future U.S. Ground-based Astronomy in the Global Context

16-17 January 2014, JW Marriott Hotel, Santa Monica, CA

For almost a hundred years the U.S. has been a dominant force in ground-based observational astronomy, enabled through significant private philanthropic, federal and state investments in university and national observatories, institutes and centers that support major astronomical facilities and instrumentation. However, over the last decade or so, several factors have begun to challenge the viability and future competitiveness of U.S. ground-based astronomy.  These include: the rapid increase in investment in astronomy research and forefront facilities by the rest of the world, the significantly increased real costs of global facilities such as Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), 30m-class O/IR telescopes and the Square Kilometre Array, and a declining commitment within the U.S. federal and state governments and the university community to make the ever-increasing investments in observatories and their critical infrastructure in the face of economic pressure.

The New Worlds New Horizons Decadal Survey presented scientific recommendations on U.S. astronomy in 2010, but the future for U.S. ground-based astronomy in the coming decade has become very challenging.  While it is impossible to forecast budget trends accurately over such a long time scale, the long-term negative impact of a persistently pessimistic budget outlook cannot be underestimated, leading to the best minds choosing to avoid astronomy as a career or to leave the U.S. community, inhibiting new ideas and stalling plans for the future.  If the dire outlook is not reversed soon, U.S. ground-based astronomy is in danger of losing its excellence and competitiveness internationally in the coming decade and beyond.

This 12th Kavli Futures Symposium aimed to develop a positive vision for how to maintain excellence in future U.S. ground-based astronomy in the era of billion-dollar class facilities, in which international collaboration is inevitable and necessary.  The meeting did not revisit the science priorities of the decadal survey, but focused on (1) examining the new realities U.S. astronomy is facing domestically and abroad, and how it needs to adapt in the new global environment, (2) coming to a consensus on novel approaches for maintaining and funding vibrant research at the universities and research centers, coupled with a flexible and innovative system of domestic observatories and laboratories, (3) developing a more coherent structure in U.S. astronomy in order to engage proactively strategic international collaborations to build and operate next-generation world-class facilities, (4) articulating a clear and realistic roadmap of how to move U.S. ground-based astronomy forward to maintain its excellence in the global context, and (5) developing actions to strengthen the communication of broader societal impact of astronomy to the public, Congress and the Administration to gain their support.

In order to be effective, the scope of this symposium was confined to addressing ground-based astronomy efforts primarily.

Science Organizing Committee

  • Fred K. Y. Lo (Chair)

    Distinguished Astronomer and Director-Emeritus

    National Radio Astronomy Observatory

  • Martha Haynes

    Professor of Astronomy

    Cornell University

  • Matt Mountain


    Space Telescope Science Institute

  • Anthony Readhead

    Professor of Astronomy

    California Institute of Astronomy

  • Debra Elmegreen

    Past President of the AAS

    Professor of Astronomy

    Vassar College

  • Garth Illingworth

    Professor of Astronomy

    UCO/Lick Observatory

    UC Santa Cruz

  • Patrick Osmer

    Professor of Astronomy

    Vice Provost for Graduate Studies

    Dean of the Graduate School

    Ohio State University



  • Roger Blandford

    Luke Blossom Professor

    in the School of Humanities and Sciences

    Stanford University/KIPAC

  • Bruce Carney

    Distinguished Professor

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Sandy Faber

    Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics,

    Interim Director

    UC Observatories, University of California

  • Andrea Ghez


    UCLA Physics & Astronomy

  • Buell Jannuzi

    Professor, Director of Steward Observatory,

    Department Head of Astronomy

    University of Arizona Steward Obs. Annex

  • Markus Kissler-Patig

    Director, Gemini Observatory

    Northern Operations Center

  • Caty Pilachowski

    Daniel Kirkwood Chair in Astronomy

    Indiana University, Astronomy Department

  • Paul Schechter

    William A. M. Burden Professor of Astrophysics

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Michael Turner

    Rauner Distinguished Service Professor/Director

    The University of Chicago

    Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

  • J. Craig Wheeler

    Samuel T. & Fern Yanagisawa Regents Ast. Prof.

    Distinguished Teaching Professor

    The University of Texas at Austin

  • Chick Woodward

    Program Director, Astrophysics

    University of Minnesota

  • Tony Beasley


    National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)

  • Todd Boroson


    Las Cumbres Observatory

  • Julianne Dalcanton


    University of Washington

  • Wendy Freedman


    Obs. of the Carnegie Institution for Science

  • Jackie Hewitt



  • Steven Kahn

    Cassius Lamb Kirk Prof. of Natural Sciences,

    Director, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

    Stanford University SLAC/KIPAC

  • Shri Kulkarni

    Professor of Astronomy, Planetary Science;

    Director, Caltech Optical Observatories

    California Institute of Technology

  • Anneila Sargent

    Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy;

    Vice President for Student Affairs

    California Institute of Technology

  • David Silva


    National Optical Astronomy Observatory

  • Meg Urry

    Israel Munson Prof Physics & Astronomy,

    Director, Yale Center Astronomy & Astrophysics

    Yale University

  • Eric Wilcots

    Associate Dean

    University of Wisconsin