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A Brief History of CASS

Formation of CASS

The Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences was formed as a UCSD campus Organized Research Unit (ORU) in the summer of 1979 by faculty members in the departments of Physics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and Chemistry. It was formed in order to provide a common institutional framework for the science, the faculty, the staff and projects engaged in various aspects of space research. The specific activities included theoretical astrophysics, cosmic plasmas, cosmochemistry, infrared astronomy, planetary physics, optical astronomy, interplanetary physics, solar physics, ultraviolet astronomy, and X- and gamma-ray astronomy.

Prime reasons for forming CASS included several large multimillion-dollar NASA space projects and the desirability of providing an organizational umbrella for a large number of senior research staff, who were, in several cases, principal investigators on those projects and had scientific reputations independent of a faculty mentor.

The constitution of CASS, drafted in 1981 and modified in 1985, states the specific objectives of CASS:

  • To provide an institutional framework to strengthen the quality of astrophysics and space sciences education and research at UCSD.
  • To ensure direction of the scientific activities appropriate to CASS and to ensure the effective planning, coordination, and continuing assessment of the relationship between CASS and the UCSD community.
  • To provide for identification and unity of the scientific ability and the management capabilities of astrophysics and space science programs at UCSD.
  • To provide a management structure which is responsible to program and sponsor requirements while preserving the scientists' prerogatives of determining the areas of investigation and the process of program management.

Brief Timeline

The first CASS director was Dr. Margaret Burbidge, with her tenure lasting a decade.
In 1988 Dr. Laurence Peterson became director for the next decade until 1997.
In 1996, CASS moved from the Applied Physics and Math building into new space in the Sponsored Engineering and Research Facility (SERF) building on the UCSD campus, with an allocation of 27,500 ASF on the top two floors. This move consolidated the various groups in CASS and provided for more frequent interaction between researchers in different disciplines.
In 1997 Dr. Arthur Wolfe assumed directorship of CASS. Two Associate Directors, Drs. James Matteson and David Tytler supported him. During this time CASS became a more diverse unit, organized in a number of smaller groups, as opposed to the earlier model dominated by a few large projects.
In 2007, Dr. George Fuller became director, assisted by Associate Director Dr. Richard Rothschild.
In 2012, Dr. Tom Murphy became Associate Director.

Past Projects

CASS has participated in or led the following major space-based or ground-based astrophysics projects:

  • Faint Object Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope (launched 1989)
  • Burst And Transient Experiment on the Compton Gamma ray Observatory (launched 1990)
  • High Energy X-ray Timing Experiment on the Rossi X-ray Timing explorer (launched 1995)
  • Long Wavelength Spectrometer on the Keck Telescope (installed 1996)
  • Electron Drift Instrument on the European Cluster Mission (launched 1999)
  • Pulse Shape Discriminator on the Spectrometer for INTEGRAL on the European INTEGRAL mission (launched 2002)
  • Apollo Lunar Laser ranging Instrument on Apache Point Observatory (installed 2005)

Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization Observatory at the South Pole (installed 2005)

The present research groups are listed under the Research tab.