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New observatory at SFU may help discover scientists

Howard Trottier, an SFU physics professor who founded the school
Howard Trottier, an SFU physics professor who founded the school's Starry Nights astronomy program, uses a star map survey the sky near the future home of a new observatory that will constructed at the east end of campus.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A new $4.4 million astronomical observatory at Simon Fraser University likely won't discover any new galaxies, but it could help discover new scientists.

At least that's the hope of Howard Trottier, a physics professor who also runs the Starry Nights astronomy program on the Burnaby Mountain campus. Since he started the program in 2007, Trottier and a host of student and faculty volunteers, as well as star buffs from the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society, have pointed a hodgepodge of telescopes skyward to show off the wonders of the night sky to thousands of visitors and school kids.

But come August, he'll have his own .7 metre diameter reflector telescope housed in a six-metre dome on the east end of campus near Strand Hall. The Trottier Observatory and Courtyard will become the focal point of an outreach program that uses astronomy to excite young people and the community about the sciences.

"Of all the sciences, astronomy is the most accessible," said Trottier, whose older brother and sister-in-law, Lorne and Louise Trottier, are providing most of the funding to construct the observatory through their Trottier Foundation.

Lorne is an electronics engineer from Montreal who cofounded Matrox, a company that makes specialized computer graphics and video products. His foundation also supported the new Trottier Studio for Innovative Science Education, a hands-on workshop space for visiting kids to try all kinds of nifty scientific activities like building models of molecules out of marshmallows and straws. It was officially opened at SFU on Thursday.

Howard Trottier said while the new telescope will be two to four times more powerful than the typical telescope found on a Canadian university campus, it's not strong enough to be much of a research tool. But it's wide field of view and ability to take photos will give star-gazers a view of the night sky they just can't get through binoculars or most consumer telescopes.

And they won't even have to be peering through the eyepiece to enjoy those views as digital technology will allow community groups and schools across Canada to look through the telescope remotely.

"When people look through our telescopes I want them to feel the mystery and excitement of the universe," said Trottier.

If that excitement steers one student to pursue a career in the sciences, then the program will have done its job, said Trottier, whose own interest in physics and astronomy was sparked by his brother's passion for electronics.

"As a tool to inspire, astronomy is second to none," said Trottier.

 

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