Press Release

New Director for MMT Observatory

By SpaceRef Editor
January 6, 2011
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As of January 1, 2011, the MMT Observatory, a joint venture of the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Arizona, is under new leadership. Grant Williams, who has served as the observatory’s Associate Director since 2007, has been appointed new Director of the MMTO.

“I’m very honored to be given the opportunity to lead such a premier astronomical observatory,” Williams said. “As an astronomy student, I was awestruck by telescopes like the MMT. Even now, as the incoming director, I get goose bumps whenever I see that enormous primary mirror.”

“The MMT remains a major instrument in unraveling the mysteries of the universe,” said Charles Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “I’m confident that Dr. Williams’ leadership will ensure the MMT’s continued scientific productivity.”

Williams received a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University at Buffalo in 1994 and a Ph.D. from Clemson University in 2000. He first joined the MMTO in September 2002 when he was awarded the Firestone Postdoctoral Fellowship. He was hired as an MMT staff scientist in March 2004, and worked as a technical coordinator from 2005 until 2007, when he was appointed Associate Director.

His research focuses on the study of very evolved high-mass stars called Wolf-Rayet stars and the stellar explosions (supernovae and gamma-ray bursts) they produce.

The MMT Observatory operates the 6.5-meter (21-foot) MMT telescope on the summit of Mt. Hopkins, approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Tucson, Ariz., on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory.

Some of MMT’s recent exciting discoveries include dwarf galaxies ( lingering in the outskirts of our Milky Way and hypervelocity stars ( racing out of our galaxy at speeds of more than 1 million miles per hour — so fast that they will never return. Using a new device ( to quench excessive starlight, astronomers at MMTO obtained images of a planet on a much closer orbit around its parent star than any other previously photographed extrasolar planet.

Williams follows Faith Vilas, an astronomer at the UA’s Steward Observatory, who headed MMTO for five years.

SpaceRef staff editor.