Lawrence W. Ramsey, professor of astronomy and astrophysics who has served as head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, has been appointed as chairman of the board of directors of the Gemini Observatory. The Gemini Observatory, which is operated by a partnership of seven countries, consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet -- the mountains in Hawaii and Chile. Ramsey also serves on the boards of directors or advisory councils of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the South African Large Telescope (SALT), and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Advisory Council.
Ramsey is known worldwide for his pioneering work in fiber-optic astronomical instrumentation. In addition to working with the Gemini Telescope, Ramsey has played a major role as the project scientist for one of the largest and most unique telescopes in the world, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which is located in Texas and is operated jointly by Penn State and four other partner universities. In 1983, Ramsey invented the concept for this telescope along with Daniel W. Weedman, also a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State at that time. Since then, Ramsey has been intensely involved in the design, construction, operation and management of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which saw its first starlight in 1996 and which was one of three finalists for the 1997 Discovery Magazine Award for Technological Innovation. In fact, the design of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope so dramatically reduces costs that it immediately opened the door to a new construction era for such large-sized telescopes. In June 1998, for example, the government of South Africa approved the construction of the South African Large Telescope (SALT), the first clone of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Ramsey now serves on the board of directors of SALT, which saw its first starlight in November 2003.
Ramsey's previous honors include a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Alumni Society of St. Louis University in 2001 and a Distinguished Service Award from the Penn State Eberly College of Science in 1997. He has published over 90 scientific papers in refereed journals and has contributed to many conference proceedings and books. He has supervised 14 graduate students, developed courses, and presented many seminars at national and international conferences, universities and research laboratories.
In addition to serving as a board member for various telescopes and observatories, Ramsey is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the International Astronomical Union, and the Facilities Subcommittee of the National Science Foundation's Business and Operations Advisory Committee.
Ramsey began his professional career in 1966 as an aircraft and spacecraft simulation-systems engineer at McDonnell Douglas Corporation -- a major aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor located in Missouri. His work in this position involved the training of astronauts for NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs. In 1970, he became a research assistant at what is now the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz..
After joining the Penn State faculty in 1976, Ramsey was promoted to associate professor in 1982, and to full professor in 1988. He served as interim head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics from 1999 to 2000 and as head from 2003 to 2011. Ramsey received a doctoral degree from Indiana University in 1976, a master's degree from Kansas State University in 1972, and a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri at St. Louis in 1968.