Gift from Astrid and Howard Preston will Fund Renovation of UCLA’s Remote Observing Facility

Howard and Astrid Preston in front of a painting by Astrid in the UCLA Luskin Conference Center. (Photo Credit: Reed Hutchinson)

The UCLA College’s Division of Physical Sciences has received a gift of $500,000 from alumni Astrid and Howard Preston to renovate and expand the facility that allows prominent UCLA astronomers and research scientists to observe distant galaxies and stars without leaving campus.

Galaxy: Stellar orbits. (Photo courtesy of NCSA, UCLA / Keck)

Renamed in honor of the couple, the Astrid and Howard Preston Remote Observing Facility in Knudsen Hall provides remote access to the Keck telescopes in Hawaii and the Lick telescope in Northern California, and, when completed, will also link to the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.

The division matched the Prestons’ gift at 50%, bringing the total investment to $750,000.

Dean of physical sciences Miguel García-Garibay said, “We are incredibly grateful for this generous gift, which will enhance remote observing capabilities for world-renowned research groups in our division for decades to come. It’s yet another impactful example of the Prestons’ long record of leadership and philanthropy in support of the Department of Physics & Astronomy.”

The Preston Remote Observing Facility is used by four leading astronomy UCLA research groups:

-The Galactic Center Group, led by 2020 Physics Nobel Laureate Andrea Ghez, studies the formation and evolution of galaxies and their central supermassive black holes.

-The Infrared Laboratory develops techniques and applications of infrared imaging devices for astrophysics, including infrared cameras and spectrometers for Lick Observatory, Keck Observatory, Gemini Observatory, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Observatory, and NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

– Extrasolar planets and planetary science faculty study the dynamics and physical properties of the interiors, surfaces and atmospheres of Earth, planets, moons and other solar system objects.

– Cosmology, galaxies and galaxy evolution faculty study the nature of galactic nuclei and quasars, the first generation of galaxies and the structure of the early universe.

Following the renovation project, which is due to begin later this year, the facility will comprise 750 square feet with two distinct remote observing areas equipped with state-of-the-science technology, which can open to one shared area to optimize functionality of the space. Also included in the plans are areas for video conferencing, group discussion, food preparation, and even sleeping, since most observing time is scheduled during night and early morning hours.

Ghez, who holds the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics, said, “I can’t emphasize enough how critical the remote observing facility is to our work. It allows us convenient real-time access to precious telescope time so that we can collect the observational data that advances our research. The renovation made possible by the Prestons’ gift will not only make a huge difference to all of us who use the facility but also will facilitate the technical development of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Keck telescopes and the Lick telescope.”

Any funds remaining after completion of the project will be used to create an endowment to cover ongoing costs related to the space, including computational analysis, future renovations and maintenance, and technology upgrades.

The Prestons have supported the Department of Physics & Astronomy for more than 20 years. They previously established the Howard and Astrid Preston Term Chair in Astrophysics and the Preston Family Graduate Fellowship in Astrophysics. Howard serves on UCLA’s Galactic Center Group Board of Advisors and Physical Sciences Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fund. Astrid is on the board of Women & Philanthropy at UCLA and the Department of English board of visitors. The couple met as UCLA undergrads in 1963. After earning a doctorate in physics, Howard founded Preston Cinema Systems, maker of high-tech camera and lens control systems for film and television. Astrid, who graduated with a B.A. in English, is an acclaimed painter.

Howard Preston said, “Astrid and I have followed the exciting progress of UCLA’s astronomy research groups for some time, and we know how important this facility is to their work. We are absolutely delighted that we can support this much-needed renovation and expansion, and we are eager to see what discoveries are around the corner.”

This article was written by Margaret MacDonald. 

First-of-its kind crowdfunding campaign raises over $69,000 for undergraduate research

A first-of-its-kind crowdfunding campaign raised more than $69,000 for the UCLA Undergraduate Research Centers in the span of two weeks, providing critical funding for students to pursue mentorship and research opportunities throughout campus.

Tama Hasson, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Research, sees first-hand how these resources can transform a student’s career path.

“When you are in a certain major, and you’re exploring a career, undergraduate research is a way to explore your interests in that career,” she said. “Research is useful for any career. Every discipline is going to ask you to take information and synthesize it.”

Pauley Pavilion fills with students on Research Poster Day

Undergraduate Research Week is an opportunity for students across campus to share their research.

Hosted on the UCLA Spark crowdfunding site, the campaign launched just before Undergraduate Research Week, an annual event that brings student researchers from across campus to present their work. After just two weeks, more than 200 donors had contributed nationwide.

For the students who rely on the research centers to deepen their research portfolio, this funding will have a significant impact on their undergraduate experience.

“If it wouldn’t have been for undergraduate research I have no idea what my UCLA experience would have been like,” said Evelyn Hernandez ‘18, who will be pursuing her Ph.D. in the fall. “I’m just glad I got to focus on something – with the money that I got from C.A.R.E., and the fellowships – that I got to focus my extra time solely on research.”

Generations of students and faculty have relied on the Undergraduate Research Centers as catalysts for academic and professional growth. UCLA is the only university in the country to have two research centers, one focused on the sciences and another focused on the humanities, arts and social sciences. Together, the centers connect students with mentorships and opportunities to conduct research with top UCLA faculty, providing hands-on experiences that shape their careers.

The campaign also accomplished something invaluable – visibility. As a result of this dedicated effort, the Undergraduate Research Centers have built a community of supporters who are invested in the success of their students.

That community will prove vital as the centers continue their work providing crucial resources for undergraduate researchers. Whitney Arnold, Director of the Undergraduate Research Center–Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, is optimistic about the show of support. 

“What I think is the coolest thing is how people at all levels and in all places in their careers contributed to the undergraduate research campaign,” Arnold said. “It just shows you the breadth and the impact of undergraduate research.”