By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2014)
This has been a busy fall for CASCA, ACURA, and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, with major lobbying efforts on behalf of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The three Coalition co-chairs (Don Brooks representing ACURA, Guy Nelson representing industry, and myself representing CASCA) traveled to Ottawa on October 20 to meet with staff members in the offices of the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Finance, and the Privy Council Office. We will be going back to Ottawa for additional meetings reaching out to different branches of the government on December 16. In November, Guy Nelson joined a Canadian trade mission to China, which gave him additional opportunities to raise the need for TMT funding with politicians involved in that visit. The individual co-chairs have also been busy writing letters to provide updates on the TMT project to other high-level politicians and their staff. In parallel, individual astronomers have had considerable success meeting with their university presidents and raising the TMT issue with them. Several of the key university presidents are now engaged with the TMT issue and are working to make this project a reality. The rules and application deadlines for the first round of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) were published in early December, which has been very helpful in clarifying the structure of this new funding program. While it may be that some part of the TMT funding can ultimately flow from CFREF, it seems clear that CFREF funding is unlikely to be the sole or even a major source of funds for the TMT construction project.
You might be wondering whether, with all the work we have been doing, we have been given any hints as to the likely success of obtaining TMT construction funding. The reality is that we will only learn whether or not we have been successful on the day that the 2015 federal budget is announced. The secrecy surrounding the federal budget is not new; indeed, we were in a similar situation in 2003 when we needed additional funding for ALMA. I remain cautiously hopeful that we will be successful in obtaining funding for the TMT.
Another important focus of our community this year is the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan, which is now well under way. There have been a very good number of white papers submitted to the MTR panel, with just a few late ones expected as I write this. The white papers are available in the MTR area of the CASCA web site and I urge you to have a look at the ones the overlap with your particular interests.
The MTR panel will be holding three town hall meetings in late March: in Montreal on Tuesday, March 24; in Toronto on Wednesday, March 25; and in Victoria on Thursday, March 26. Please try to attend one of these town hall meetings if you can; they are an important opportunity for you to raise issues with the MTR panel and for the panel to hear about the concerns and priorities of our wider community.
The CASCA Board has been hard at work for you this fall. We sent out a call to Canadian astronomers who were not yet members of the International Astronomical Union inviting them to apply for membership in advance of the 2015 IAU General Assembly, and over 40 people responded positively. We committed some of the surplus that had built up in the Westar fund to supporting the “Discover the Universe” initiative for the next three years, providing some much needed continuity as they wait to hear the results of the next round of NSERC PromoScience grants. We are also working with the EPO committee to decide how to rejuvenate the Westar public lecture series. We are continuing to work on completing the translation of key pages for the French version of the website and trying to do a better job keeping the English and French websites synchronized, for example by posting English-language press releases and job advertisements on both websites. We have completed the renewal of the members of the various CASCA committees and are starting to explore possible areas for collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).
I also want to draw your attention to the 2015 CASCA annual meeting, which will be hosted by McMaster University. The dates of the meeting are May 24-27, with an MTR session held for part of the day on May 28. You can expect to hear more information about the meeting in February via the email exploder. The 2016 AGM will be hosted by the University of Manitoba and Brandon University in Winnipeg.
Finally, congratulations to Sara Ellison, who in October was awarded the Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada.