International astronomy association chooses Texas A&M as 40th member

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Texas A&M University has been selected for membership in the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. (AURA), the prestigious international organization dedicated to the advancement of astronomy and related sciences.

Texas A&M has been admitted for a three-year term through June 30, 2017 as the 40th United States member of the global consortium founded in 1957 with the encouragement of the National Science Foundation to create astronomical observing facilities and to make them available to all qualified researchers from U.S. institutions and universities on the basis of scientific merit.

University Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy Nicholas B. Suntzeff spent 20 years at one such facility, the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)/Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in La Serena, Chile, prior to coming to Texas A&M in 2006 as director of the Texas A&M astronomy program. Suntzeff, who will serve as Texas A&M’s designated AURA representative, says he has watched the consortium progress with time to include the most important astronomy research institutions in the country and also play a significant role in its related policy decisions.

“AURA has evolved from an organization that runs the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Gemini Observatory, National Solar Observatory and the Space Telescope Science Institute, to an organization that has become the de facto voice for United States astronomy, outside of the American Astronomical Society,” Suntzeff said. “Having a seat at their table is a step toward Texas A&M having a stronger voice in U.S. astronomical policy issues.”

For Texas A&M, the move marks another important milestone in a veritable scientific renaissance that began in 2002 with 1940 Texas A&M distinguished petroleum engineering graduate George P. Mitchell’s $1 million gift to establish the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy. Thirteen years, more than $88 million and two new buildings later, Texas A&M boasts a well-respected astronomy program built on strong research, innovative teaching and state-of-the-art instrumentation construction.

AURA officials specifically cited the Texas A&M program’s strength and commitment to the future as primary factors in reaching their decision.

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