University of Richmond students always shoot for the stars, but thanks to the brand-new Martha Carpenter Observatory on the roof of the Gottwald Center for the Sciences, seeing what they are aiming for will be that much easier.

A generous gift by Dr. Martha Carpenter, W’51, recently allowed the Department of Physics to acquire and install an observatory, complete with a Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain 14-inch reflecting telescope.

Physics laboratory director Dr. Henry Nebel, whose research explores atmospheric and solar astronomy, said that this item has been on his wish list for almost five years. In 2008, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Andy Newcomb agreed to help support the project; by the summer of 2009 the platform had been built; and this fall the observatory, complete with telescope, was installed.

“This telescope will be an instrumental accessory for classes and research, but it will also be open to any student who wants to learn more about astronomy or just see the moons of Jupiter,” Nebel said.

The physics department hosted the grand opening celebration of the Martha Carpenter Observatory on Tuesday, November 9. Carpenter was in attendance, along with her great-niece, Alex Child, who is a senior at Richmond. In her remarks Carpenter praised Richmond’s dedication to furthering student learning, but said that it is also the responsibility of everyone to improve education.

“I hope this observatory will enhance the educational and research opportunities available to the department and everyone else interested in astronomy,” Carpenter said. “I think that contributing to education is a priority. I've realized how important it is for students to have the opportunity to realize their potential and realize their dreams."

Carpenter graduated from Westhampton College in 1951, lettering in field hockey, tennis and lacrosse. After graduation, she initially went to the University of Virginia to study nursing before deciding to go to medical school. She retired from the University of Virginia School of Medicine as a professor of pediatric cardiology after 44 years on the faculty. She is now vice chair of pediatrics and medical director of Children’s Hospital at University of Virginia Medical Center.

“This observatory will be key for the studying of astronomy, but we also want to start hosting regular observatory nights for the whole student body,” said Dr. Ted Bunn, physics professor and chair of the department, whose work is in the field of cosmology — the study of the structure, origin, and evolution of the universe on the very largest scales.

Bunn added that it was very fitting that the University was celebrating the opening of this observatory in this year because it is the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s discovery of the moons of Jupiter.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching the University of Richmond gain in reputation and recognition steadily, and it’s been so nice to see,” Carpenter said. “I’m so happy I could contribute in some way to the continuing transformation. I think it's up to all of us to contribute whatever we can to a project like this and I'm so excited I can be a part of it.”