Press Release

Mitchell Gift to Texas A&M, Support from The University of Texas at Austin, Enable Flagship Universities to Join Telescope Consortium

By SpaceRef Editor
August 3, 2004
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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas A&M University and The University of
Texas at Austin are joining the Giant Magellan Telescope
(GMT) Consortium to explore the frontiers of our universe as
the result of a $1.25 million gift to Texas A&M from George P.
Mitchell of Houston and matching funds from The University of
Texas at Austin.

The Texas universities will join the Observatories of the
Carnegie Institution of Washington, Harvard University, the
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona and the
University of Michigan as partners in the Giant Magellan
Telescope Consortium.

Mitchell, a 1940 distinguished graduate of Texas A&M’s
Petroleum Engineering Department, made his career in energy
and real estate development. He founded Mitchell Energy &
Development Corp. Throughout his successful business career,
Mitchell cultivated interests in philanthropy, civics and global
issues, ranging from the environment to the implications of
science and technology.

He provided the $1.25 million gift to Texas A&M toward the GMT
project on behalf of the George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell
Institute for Fundamental Physics in the Physics Department at
Texas A&M University. His gift will be matched with $1.25 million
over the next two years by The University of Texas at Austin.

“This project sparked my interest because it will allow Texas A&M
and UT to attract young scientists and students to further their
interests in the field of physics and cosmology,” Mitchell said.

The GMT Consortium plans to construct the Giant Magellan
Telescope in Chile. It will consist of six 8.4-meter mirrors
surrounding a seventh central mirror, all on a single steerable
mounting. The telescope’s light-collecting area equals that of a
single 21-meter mirror. Today’s largest telescopes, including
The University of Texas at Austin’s Hobby-Eberly Telescope at
McDonald Observatory in West Texas, have mirrors with effective
diameters of about 10 meters. The GMT will collect five times
more light than the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. It will collect about
70 times as much light as the Hubble Space Telescope and
produce images 10 times sharper.

The GMT will open a path to fundamental discoveries about the
origins of the universe, black holes and the genesis of galaxies
and planets. It will have the power to detect light from very faint
objects, the ability to distinguish fine detail despite the blurring
effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the ultimate sensitivity to
infrared heat radiation from the formation of stars and planets.

“This joint project will bring Texas A&M to the front line of astronomy
research,” said H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.
“We are grateful to Mr. Mitchell for his continued support of the
Department of Physics and the College of Science.”

“Mr. Mitchell’s enthusiasm for learning more about the cosmos,
where we came from, and how we got where we are is one
impetus for this generous gift,” said Edward Fry, head of the
Physics Department. “With his continuing support, the spotlight
on astronomy at Texas A&M University can only grow stronger.”

“Joining this consortium is a way of keeping the UT astronomy
program at the top of U.S. astronomy. I shall be delighted to work
with A&M,” said David L. Lambert, director of McDonald Observatory.

“The questions astronomers ask are profound and strike a
responsive chord in every thinking human — the origin and age
of the universe, the existence of extraterrestrial life, the nature
of dark matter and black holes, the search for other planets,” said
Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences at The
University of Texas at Austin. “Answers to such questions require
extraordinary tools. The GMT is the best plan for a major improvement
in Earth-based optical spectroscopy that I have seen, and I want
Texas to be a founding partner in that effort.”

“I am delighted that Texas A&M and UT Austin are joining the Giant
Magellan, and grateful to George Mitchell for the enthusiastic generosity
that catalyzed and made this extended partnership possible,” said Dr.
Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories and chair of
the Giant Magellan Telescope Board.

Mitchell and his wife Cynthia are longtime benefactors of Texas A&M.
The Mitchells are credited with gifts that include funding to establish
both The George P. Mitchell ’40 Outdoor Tennis Center and The
George P. & Cynthia W. Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics.
Continuing his support for the Physics Department, Mitchell has also
established several chairs under the auspices of the Mitchell Institute:
the Stephen Hawking Chair in Fundamental Physics, the Mitchell/Heep
Chair in Theoretical High Energy Physics, the Mitchell/Heep Chair in
Experimental High Energy Physics and the Schuessler/Mitchell/Heep
Chair in Experimental Optical and Biomedical Physics.

The Mitchells have also provided funding for an endowed chair in
Astronomy/Cosmology, a second Chair in Theoretical High Energy
Physics and an endowed Career Enhancement Award for a new young
faculty member in Astronomy/Cosmology. As evidenced by the chair
titles, the Herman F. Heep and Minnie Belle Heep Texas A&M University
Foundation has also been a significant contributor and has matches
to the latter three Mitchell endowments under consideration.

The Mitchells have also made many gifts to The University of Texas at
Austin, including support for the University of Texas Elementary Charter
School and unrestricted funds and faculty support for the School of
Architecture and the College of Engineering.

Note to editors: An illustration of the Giant Magellan Telescope
is available on-line in high resolution at:

This information is being released simultaneously by The University of
Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, and Dancie Perugini Ware Public

The new MIT institute is the tenth created by the Kavli Foundation
since its founding in December 2000. All focus on neuroscience,
cosmology, or nanoscience. “I have selected these three areas of
emphasis because I believe they provide the greatest opportunity
for major scientific breakthroughs and will have long-range
benefits for humanity,” said Kavli.

The nine other Kavli Institutes are located at Columbia University
(brain science), Stanford (particle astrophysics & cosmology),
University of California at San Diego (brain & mind), University of
California at Santa Barbara (theoretical physics), Delft University
of Technology in the Netherlands (nanoscience), Yale (neuroscience),
Cornell University (nanoscale science), California Institute of
Technology (nanoscience), and University of Chicago (cosmological

SpaceRef staff editor.