The University dedicated its newest building on Nov. 15 and honored the generosity of the Bucknellian who made it possible.
The Tressler Observing Laboratory, a permanent home for the astronomy program's six new telescopes, broke ground in May and opened in August. Located steps away from the Observatory, the 535-square-foot facility features a motorized roof that fully retracts to reveal the night sky.
The Isaac J. Tressler Fund for Astronomy paid for most of the building, which replaces a wooden deck that left telescopes exposed to the elements. The equipment is used for astronomy class labs throughout the academic year, weather permitting, as well as for campus events and community nights for area families.
"Every night, the old telescopes had to be powered down and covered with weatherproof bags, which caused wear and tear on the equipment," said Professor Katelyn Allers, physics & astronomy. "And they vibrated when people walked around the deck, which caused problems with image quality."
In the new building, 4-foot-deep cement piers surrounded by foam and a poured foundation isolate the telescopes from vibrations. Cinderblock walls and blacked-out windows shield stargazers' eyes from passing headlights. The telescopes can be connected to laptops and controlled remotely from inside the Observatory, which is an advantage in cold weather.
The secure facility allows faculty and students to leave dedicated astronomical equipment such as spectrographs and cameras attached to the telescopes overnight. "In the past, we had to haul out all of our equipment," said Allers. "Now we just roll the roof back, and we're ready to go. There's no startup time."
Better security also opened the door for better instrumentation, which was purchased through the Tressler endowment. Three new 8-inch telescopes are already in use, and three 11-inch telescopes will arrive in December, including an astrograph with advanced imaging capability.
The building features classic Bucknell brick and moldings and a fully weatherproof interior. It is ADA compliant, with motorized telescope mounts that accommodate viewers of all heights. Additionally, the strategic placement of a sidewalk between the lab and the main entrance of the Observatory makes that building ADA accessible.
Many Bucknell students come from brightly lit metropolitan areas and have never really seen the night sky, Allers noted. "When you have a roomful of them taking in the universe, it's just awesome."
Professor Ned Ladd, physics & astronomy, agreed. "Here, students in all disciplines get to use real technology instead of just reading about astronomy in a book."
Ellie Easse '15, a computer science engineering major from New Jersey, is now in her third year as a teaching assistant for astronomy labs. "The viewing experience is so much better now," she said. "Students can actually appreciate the stars without worrying about equipment malfunctioning or dealing with the curtains that surrounded the old telescopes."
The late Isaac Tressler, who graduated in 1940, majored in commerce and finance but was fascinated by the astronomy class he took as a first-year student. His interest in the stars became a lifelong passion that he shared with his whole family. In appreciation, he established his namesake fund in 2003.
In addition to funding most of the new building, Tressler's gift has paid for visiting speakers, outreach programs, equipment and faculty observation time at the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, N.M. In 2009, Tressler funding paid for the restoration of the Observatory's Clark Telescope, a gift from William Bucknell in 1887.
Several members of the family attended the dedication ceremony, including Tressler's daughter, Connie Tressler '62, M'65, who recalled her father's love of education and helping others.
"Learning about the stars is something people can always carry with them, no matter where they go or what they study," she said. "I wish my father could have been here tonight. He would have been very happy with the way this turned out."
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