The 2,450th Meeting of the Society

December 3, 2021 at 8:00 PM

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club

The Arecibo Observatory

Legacy and Ideas for the Future

Francisco Córdova

Director of the Arecibo Observatory


About the Lecture

The Arecibo Observatory (AO) hosted the most powerful radar system and the most sensitive radio telescope in the world until the unexpected collapse of the 1000-ft “legacy” AO telescope (LAT) on December 1, 2020.  For 57 years, the facility uniquely excelled in three separate, major scientific areas: planetary science, space and atmospheric sciences, and astronomy.  Through its final day of operation, the LAT continued to produce new, groundbreaking science, adding to its long history of extraordinary achievements, including work resulting in a Nobel Prize in Physics.

The telescope’s collapse left a significant void, which echoed across the extensive, world-wide scientific community in these fields.  It also produced a deeply-felt cultural, socioeconomic, and educational loss for Puerto Ricans, and a tragic deprivation of opportunity, inspiration, and training for STEM students in Puerto Rico – and across the U.S.   Discussions are now underway on a Next Generation Arecibo Observatory Telescope, a new instrument with unparalleled range, resolution sensitivity, and power that would continue the tradition of its predecessor and push forward the boundaries of the planetary, atmospheric, and radio astronomical sciences for decades to come.

This lecture will discuss the observatory’s history and accomplishments, the scientific and cultural reasons for building a new telescope of even greater capabilities, and the technical and engineering plans that have been developed to date.  The prospects for securing the necessary support to move the project off the drawings board and into the sky will also be discussed.

About the Speaker

Francisco Córdova is the director of the Arecibo Observatory, which was for many years home to the largest operational single dish radio telescope in the world.   Previously, he served as Senior Manager for Composite Materials and Fabrication for Boeing Research and Technology, leading superstructure composite materials development for military and commercial aircraft across the enterprise.

As Director, Francisco has overall responsibility for the Observatory’s research in astronomy, atmospheric sciences and planetary sciences, for developing the facility’s budget, its research portfolio, for engineering activities and facility operations at the Observatory and for the activities of over 130 scientists, engineers, and staff members.  Francisco is the youngest director ever to lead a Large Facility for the National Science Foundation.  During his time as Director, Francisco has secured major research funding for the facility from private and government agencies.  And he is now deeply involved in planning the observatory’s next stage and securing the support required to realize it.

Francisco earned a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and an MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  He is completing a PhD in Civil Engineering at the University of South Carolina and is a registered Professional Engineer.