Dr. Paul Vanden Bout Awarded the 2023 Jansky Lectureship

Dr. Paul Vanden Bout will present the 2023 Jansky Lectureship at the Green Bank Observatory Thursday, November 9th.  The lectureship, sponsored by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, is named in honor of Karl Jansky, who first detected radio waves in 1932.

Dr. Paul Vanden Bout has been involved in the construction and management of the some of the most iconic radio telescope projects undertaken by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory since the first site opened in Green Bank in 1958.  The lectureship honor was unexpected.

“Total surprise, I had no idea! Most of the Jansky lecturers, perhaps all of them, were very distinguished scientists and I haven’t done that much science,” said Vanden Bout. “I guess the staff thought I might have some interesting stories to tell or something like that.”

He became the Director of the NRAO in 1985 and served in that position until 2002, overseeing the completion of the Very Long Baseline Array in New Mexico, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Expanded Very Large Array and the beginning of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in northern Chile.  Radio Astronomy has seen many changes since 1958.

“Oh well, they’ve been pretty dramatic; they went from si

ngle dishes to interferometers to really big ones,” he said. They went from single dishes to interferometers to really big ones. NRAO has plans now for the New Generation VLA [Very Large Array] which is truly enormous, a couple hundred plus attennas.”

For a little more perspective, the ALMA site in northern Chile is an array of 66 antennas. Dr. Vanden Bout says it was a challenging project right from the beginning.

“The GBT was a very difficult project and I thought that set the record. But ALMA was

much harder – the partnership agreed to put it on a very high site in Chile at 16,400 feet.”

At that elevation the oxygen and water levels are half what you would have at sea level, resulting in a very clear sky.

“We underestimated the difficulty of developing the site and installing the antennas,” he said. “It was just way harder that we thought it would be.”

Adding to the technical difficulties of building on such a remote site was the large consortium of 23 countries overseeing the project, cost overruns and other delays.  ALMA officially went online in 2013.

Dr. Vanden Bout will present the Jansky Lecture “Space Molecules to Solar Systems: Five Decades of Discoveries” on Thursday November 9th at the Green Bank Science Center at 7pm.  Registration information is at www.nrao.edu/jansky.

Story By

Heather Niday

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