Siena to Build Observatory on Campus

Siena to Build Observatory on Campus

Friday, April 28, 2017

The main School of Science building at Siena College is named after Roger Bacon – the Franciscan friar who 800 hundred years ago helped formulate the scientific method that emphasized that observation was important before any conclusion about the natural world could be determined.

It is fitting now, that with a sizable grant from a national foundation, Siena College will be able to keep doing just that.

Siena will begin construction in mid-2018 on a new observatory that will house the largest telescope in the Capital Region. The College received a $467,402 grant from the Maryland-based Sherman Fairchild Foundation specifically for the project.

The new observatory will be constructed on the roof of Roger Bacon Hall. Work will begin after the spring 2018 semester concludes and the observatory should be up and running by that fall, according to Rose A. Finn, Ph. D., professor of physics and coordinator of the grant application.

The permanently-mounted telescope will be housed in a 16-foot structure atop Roger Bacon Hall, topped by a rotating dome with a retractable opening. The telescope will feature a 27-inch diameter mirror that can be remotely controlled via the internet.

The telescope will allow eyepiece observing of such favorites as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn’s rings, and will have sophisticated imaging that will be used to track near-Earth asteroids and to follow the fading light of exploding stars, according to Dr. Finn. In addition, a spectrograph will allow for analysis of the chemical composition of stars, nebulae and galaxies.

John Breyo ’68 H ’02 and his wife Marilyn donated $100,000 to help fund the project. Breyo served as chairman and CEO of Ayco from 1997 until his retirement in 2010, but he’s had a longstanding interest in astrophysics. The Schenectady, N.Y. native is an honor graduate of Linton High School where he was selected to participate in national accelerated math and science programs as part of President John F. Kennedy’s race for space initiative. After graduating high school, John changed course earning his B.B.A. in accounting from Siena and his Juris Doctor degree from Albany Law School setting up a distinguished career as one of the nation’s most prominent tax attorneys. His interest in the cosmos has remained strong to this day – he and Marilyn own a home across from the Aspen Center for Physics in Colorado where they enjoy interacting with some of the world’s most renowned scientists. 

“Siena has been great for me, so it starts with your own internal feelings when you talk about generosity back to your roots,” Breyo said. “To help Siena and future generations of students through the construction of this observatory is very fulfilling. Hopefully it inspires them to solve some of the many mysteries and problems challenging our planet and the universe.”

The observatory won’t be used by just physics and astrophysics faculty and students – Dr. Finn said that more than 30 percent of Siena students take Introduction to Astronomy as a liberal arts elective, and they will be able to use the telescope as well.

Students and faculty will use the observatory for their coursework and research, and public observing sessions will be held throughout the year.

“One of our goals when applying for the grant was to increase our community outreach and make our observatory available to school groups, scouting troops or anyone who has a genuine interest in astronomy,” said. Dr. Finn.

“This observatory will be an important part of STEM education at Siena, and our outreach to the wider community,” said. Dr. John P. Cummings, dean of the School of Science and co-author of the grant proposal. “We are extremely grateful to the Sherman Fairchild Foundation for their generosity and their support of the College’s science program.”