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Project works to recover 1960s telescope

Written by Kelly Walters

The BYU-Idaho physics department and the electrical engineering department are collaborating together to recover the university’s                     largest telescope.

The telescope, originally brought to campus in the 1960s, has not been functioning for several years, thus preventing public access from students and community members.

Stephen McNeil, project sponsor and a professor in the physics department, said the electronic circuits within the telescope gave out, thus requiring a collaboration between both departments.

McNeil explained that it is a huge thing for the physics department to be collaborating with the electrical engineering department.

“I’m happy that we were able to do some collaborative work with the electrical engineering department, and they were happy to take on this project,” McNeil said. “In the end, it benefits both departments.”

He said the school had to quit using the telescope and instead used a  smaller telescope.

Elder Neil L. Andersen meets with students during the dedication of the Science and technology Building.

“The telescope out at the observatory needed to have the hardware updated to run better and allow faculty or students with the option to control the 6,000 pound telescope through a computer astronomy program or a phone app,”  said Alex Staker, a senior studying electrical engineering.

The phone app was displayed during the dedication of the new Science and Technology Center. The group of students showcased their project to Elder Neil L. Andersen, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Staker said the project left them with lots of challenges due to the expectations of the project sponsors. He said the project had been previously worked on, which created difficulties because the last team who had worked on it did different things.

“We were glad they had made progress on the retrofitting process,” Staker said. “However, after a lot of research and a lot of time was spent in trying to get the telescope updated with the hardware from the previous semester, we ran into a problem.”

Staker said there were two scenarios that could have played out. The first scenario was that the telescope would not be computer programed, but someone would manually operate the telescope through a phone app.

The second scenario would be more expensive. They would have to “switch out the hardware for better suited ones, which would allow us to meet all the specifications,” Staker said.

He said they decided to go with the less-expensive scenario.

Staker said he was able to explain the project to Elder Andersen and with Shawn Halversen, a team member on the project and a senior studying electrical engineering, during the Science and Technology Building dedication.

“We were able to show him [Elder Andersen] how our telescope worked,” Halversen said. “He was able to use the phone app to control the motors that would be eventually be installed at the telescope.”

Elder Andersen tests a phone app designed by students to control BYU-I’s largest telescope.

Staker said he appreciated that Elder Andersen approved of the work.

The BYU-I physics department currently has several other telescopes on campus, including the telescope open to in the BYU-Idaho Observatory.

The observatory, located in the George S. Romney Building, is open free to the public on the weekdays of  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.


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