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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

NSF discards rebuilding Arecibo Observatory telescope, proposes research center

The National Science Foundation has issued a call for a new world-class educational and research center at the Arecibo Observatory, but has not mentioned any plans to rebuild the renowned radio telescope that was destroyed in a 2020 collapse.

By The Star Staff

The National Science Foundation (NSF) in a report Thursday did not mention any plans to rebuild the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope and instead is proposing an educational center to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said Thursday that she was disappointed.

“While we know the titanic challenge that is the construction of a new radio telescope that can surpass the previous 305-meter telescope, the fact that this possibility is not being explored by the NSF in its new plans disappoints us,” the resident commissioner said in a statement.

The telescope was destroyed in 2020 after a 900-ton metal platform suspended above it collapsed.

The NSF issued a solicitation Thursday for a new multidisciplinary, world-class educational center at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico that would serve as a hub for STEM education and outreach.

The center would expand upon existing education and outreach opportunities currently in place at the Arecibo Observatory site, while also implementing new STEM programs and initiatives. The new center is expected to open next year.

The scientific community has expressed broad support for an expanded educational facility. Specifically, the 2020 Decadal Survey for Astronomy and Astrophysics, or Astro2020, recognized that the observatory has, over the course of its nearly 60-year history, become a highly regarded part of the community for many of Puerto Rico’s citizens, serving as a source of pride and local economic benefit while also providing access to training and employment for many in the community. Astro2020 called out support for its continuation as an important nexus for education, community, and developing a diversified STEM workforce, the NSF said.

The goals of the center would be to promote STEM education, learning and teaching; support fundamental and applied STEM and STEM education research; broaden participation in STEM; and build and leverage existing and new collaborations and partnerships.

The solicitation calls for proposals to manage the education, STEM research, and outreach aspects of the center. Resources available on site include: a learning center, the Ángel Ramos Foundation Science and Visitor Center, exhibition space, laboratory space, auditorium, cafeteria, office space and dormitories. A third-party contractor will be responsible for maintenance of the site resources listed above, in addition to grounds maintenance.

NSF program directors will work with awardees who have ongoing NSF-funded activities at the Arecibo Observatory to ensure continuity of programs.

“The solicitation does not include rebuilding the 305-meter telescope or operational support for current scientific infrastructure, such as the 12-meter radio telescope or Lidar facility,” the NSF said. “Teams seeking to utilize existing scientific infrastructure or proposing new projects can submit proposals that are complementary to the scope of the new center. All proposals will go through the standard NSF merit review process. Interested parties are advised to contact an NSF program director in their program area to discuss the proposal prior to submission.”

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