Fall 2007 W. M. Keck Observatory 


 In this Issue:
 Planetary Astronomy
 Expanding Our Reach
 Inspiring Innovation
 What’s Up in the Universe?


By Linda Copman, with assistance from Peggi Kamisato, Observatory Librarian

Photo: Painting the Keck II Dome (white over the dark primer) in October 1994. Photo courtesy of Keck Observatory archives.
William Myron Keck’s life embodies the American dream of a rags-to-riches, meteoric success story. W. M. Keck was born in western Pennsylvania in 1880. His father left home to work in the nation’s oil fields, leaving young Bill to support his mother. He landed a job selling sandwiches on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. In 1900, at the age of 20, Bill disembarked the train in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to get a closer look at a new oil well. He never got back on the train.

Bill became a wildcat oil driller who traveled around the country looking for new strikes. He moved to California, where he soon set up his own drilling company. According to a 1985 Keck Foundation biography of W. M. Keck, he was a “true entrepreneur”:

Image: Portrait of W. M. Keck presented by the Keck Foundation to the W. M. Keck Observatory, now on display in the Observatory Headquarters in Waimea, Hawai`i.
“Keck built his company into the largest drilling contractor in the world through such bold techniques as ‘guaranteeing’ oil wells and predicting their size. If Bill struck oil, he was paid many times his normal fee. If the well was dry, he didn’t get a cent.”

In 1921 W. M. Keck founded the Superior Oil Company, which grew into the world’s largest independent producer of oil and gas. In 1984, Superior Oil merged into the Mobil Oil Corporation.

Keck’s oil successes were based on his willingness to take huge risks, coupled with his use of innovative technology which relied on the latest scientific advances to increase his company’s chances of success. Keck was the first to pioneer use of a seismograph to locate underground hydrocarbons, the first to utilize directional (or slant) drilling techniques, the first to develop offshore drilling platforms in Louisiana, and the first to use rotary drilling tools in place of pile-driving type tools. These innovations directly led to the discovery of many productive oil wells, which greatly increased the profits of Keck’s company.

W. M. Keck established the Keck Foundation in 1954, and his will established trusts to benefit the Foundation, as well as the University of Southern California, Stanford University, Pomona College, and Occidental College. According to W. M. Keck’s 1985 Keck Foundation biography:

“During his lifetime he made considerable philanthropic contributions in the belief that individuals rather than government should take the lead in charitable giving.”
Photo: Howard B. Keck, W. M. Keck's son and Chairperson of the Keck Foundation at the time of the W. M. Keck Observatory funding. Photo courtesy of Keck Observatory archives.



Howard B. Keck was the second of W. M. Keck’s six children. Howard later served as President of the Keck Foundation, and it was Howard who was responsible for the unprecedented $70 million gift to Caltech in 1985, which financed design and construction of the Keck I Telescope. Like his father, Howard B. Keck was willing to take a risk, with the prospect of a “home run” on the horizon. The ten-meter Keck Telescope would be four times more powerful than its predecessor. According to the Keck Foundation’s January 3, 1985 news release which announced the grant, Howard B. Keck had great expectations for the new telescope, which would utilize the latest technological breakthroughs in its design and construction. According to the Foundation news release, these are Howard’s words when he announced the gift:

“This proposed grant is historic in both its size and purpose. The Keck Ten-Meter Telescope will enable us to see much farther than we can see today and help to discover how the universe began. . . . Astronomers expect the Ten-Meter Telescope to be at the forefront of optical astronomy for many decades into the 21st century.”
Howard B. Keck took a huge risk when he committed nearly a fourth of the Foundation’s assets to fund this monumental project (both the Keck I and Keck II Telescopes). Twenty+ years later, in hindsight, it is easy to weigh the outcome of Howard Keck’s bold gamble. The legacy of discovery being forged by the W. M. Keck Observatory continues to astound the scientists who have the privilege of working here, as well as the rest of the citizens of our global community.

Photo: Howard B. Keck (left), Chairman and President of the W. M. Keck Foundation, and Dr. Marvin L. Goldberger (right), President, California Institute of Technology, view a model of the Keck Ten-Meter Telescope. Image and caption from the Keck Foundation press packet for the January 3, 1985 announcement of the Keck Observatory grant.
“What attracted the Keck Foundation to this particular project is that the Foundation has been interested in making a significant gift to further the interests of science and the interests of mankind and mankind’s learning of why we exist, and this project satisfies that particular interest of the Foundation.” - Mr. Julian von Kalinowski, Director of the Keck Foundation at the time of the 1985 gift to Caltech
In November 1990 the first nine mirror segments were assembled into the telescope structure and tested. The initial images from Keck I’s first light were equivalent to the images being obtained by the Palomar Observatory - and this was prior to the installation of the remaining 27 mirror segments. After the successful demonstration of the segmented mirror concept, the Keck Foundation committed to fund a second ten-meter telescope adjacent to Keck I. In April 1991, the Keck Foundation announced a second grant of roughly $59 million to fund eighty percent of the cost of constructing the Keck II Telescope.

Photo: Keck I Telescope construction photo showing the dome arch girders. Photo courtesy of Keck Observatory archives.


“The twin telescopes ‘will answer many questions about the universe in which we live’ and ‘enrich every single human being.’" - Thomas Everhart, president of the California Institute of Technology, AP press release, April 27, 1991
Today, the Keck telescopes enable scientists to peer back in time to the dawn of the universe and to measure the expanding universe. Keck astronomers are studying the black hole at the center of our galaxy and identifying planets around nearby stars — one of which is likely to support life. We are learning to understand the life cycle of our own solar system and of other suns, some of which are vastly dissimilar to our own. We are redefining the basic rules, the previously defined boundaries, and our fundamental understanding of our cosmos based on the scientific evidence being collected by the Keck Telescopes.

Photo: Keck I Telescope nearing completion. In the foreground is the 36th and final mirror segment (in crane) being lowered into position as part of the primary mirror. Dr Jerry Nelson (front left) stands with some of the technicians and engineers involved with assembling the Keck I segmented mirror. Photo dated Tuesday, April 14, 1992, courtesy of the Keck Observatory archives.
T. J. Keck, a fourth generation Keck, is currently serving as the Keck Foundation’s liaison to the Observatory Governing Board. T. J. attends Board meetings and serves in an advisory capacity to Board members, and he is charged with overseeing the Foundation’s investment in Keck Observatory.

"The Foundation’s mission is to aid in the development of preeminent scientific endeavors. We are interested in taking calculated risks in order to hit home runs. If we are only hitting singles and doubles then we are not taking enough risk or operating far enough along the cutting edge. We consider the Keck Observatory to be a ‘Home Run’ and continue to support our original investment with additional investments in next generation systems like adaptive optics to maintain its status as the world’s premier ground-based observatory." — T. J. Keck
Photo: Keck Foundation press conference to announce funding for the Keck II Telescope. (Left) Ed Stone, Caltech Vice President, JPL Director, & CARA (California Association for Research in Astronomy) Chairman. (Right) William Frazer, CARA Vice chairman. Courtesy of Keck Observatory archives.
The Keck Foundation continues to fund what they call “promising directions,” or “high-impact scientific research with the greatest potential for major breakthroughs in understanding our world” (The W. M. Keck Foundation 2006 Annual Report). According to its 2006 Annual Report, the Keck Foundation last year paid over $47 million to existing grantees and $37 million in new grants, from their $1.4 billion net asset base (as of December 31, 2006).

In 2003 the Keck Foundation committed another $2 million to the adaptive optics system for the Next Generation Wavefront Controller, to support Keck Observatory’s continued leadership in astronomical research.

Today, Keck Observatory relies on funding from its partner institutions to maintain base operations. Significant additional support for the Keck Observatory is provided by public and private grants and by individual contributions, which totaled $10.8 million in 2006.

Photo: Time lapse photo showing Keck Telescopes, with Keck II laser guide star illuminating one target in the cosmos. Photo courtesy of Keck Observatory archives.
“. . . Fortunately, some people with vast fortunes have wisdom in spending money on projects such as these telescopes, whose benefits to society extend for years and touch every person who has ever looked at the stars and wondered.” — Los Angeles Times editorial, January 4, 1985
Visit www.wmkeck.org to learn more about the Keck Foundation. Visit www.keckobservatory.org/support to support the work of Keck Observatory.

Footnote: According to a study announced in the June 15, 2007 issue of Science Magazine, Harbough et al assessed the neural activation of reward-related brain areas in response to both mandatory donations (taxes) and voluntary charitable contributions. The team discovered that “the sense of well-being in the voluntary giving condition surpassed that seen when subjects were taxed.” Enjoy the gift of giving! 

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