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New leader named for University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy

  • Doug Simons.

    Doug Simons.

The executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea today was named the next director of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

Doug Simons, the veteran Mauna Kea astronomer, will start his new job Sept. 1, subject to the formal posting on the agenda of the UH Board of Regents’ April 15 meeting.

The institute last had a permanent director in 2017, when Gunther Hasinger left to become director of science at the European Space Agency, Europe’s equivalent to NASA. Veteran IfA astronomer Robert McLaren served as interim director.

The university named three finalists for Ifa director in October, including Simons, before announcing a week later that the hiring would be put on hold until UH was in a better financial position.

The highly regarded research institute is one of the largest university astronomy programs in the world with observatories on Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island and Haleakala on Maui. It is among the top three programs at the university in terms of the amount of research dollars generated.

Simons’ appointment comes at a time when the university has come under increasing criticism for its management of the astronomy precinct atop Mauna Kea. The state House of Representatives recently approved the formation of a working group that aims to make recommendations to change the management of the mountain.

A supporter of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope, Simons is a leader among the current Mauna Kea observatories and has helped to lead community efforts in a search for a compromise allowing construction of the cutting-edge instrument.

Simons, who earned his doctorate from IfA and has a background in telescope instrument development, has worked on Mauna Kea since 1990. He was director of the Gemini Observatory from 2006 to 2011 before taking the reigns at Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in 2012.

“Returning to the IfA, where I received a fabulous education, brings me full circle. It is an honor to be chosen to lead an institution so well established globally in astronomical research, education and technology innovation,” Simons said in a news release.

At IfA, Simons said he hopes to broaden the institute’s impact outside of astronomy, making the department an example for “the potential for collaborative efforts between science and culture.”

UH President David Lassner said he approved the appointment recommended by UH-Manoa Provost Michael Bruno.

“Doug Simons is the leader IfA needs as Hawaii navigates through a pivotal period for the future of astronomy. Doug is highly accomplished and respected as a leader in the astronomy community and he has proven his commitment to honest and consistent community and educational outreach,” Lassner said.

Simons has been a leader in astronomy education, having helped establish the Maunakea Scholars program, which gives high school students observing time at the Maunakea Observatories, and A Hua He Inoa, a program that allows Hawaiian-speaking students and educators to create Hawaiian names for astronomical discoveries made in Hawaii.

Simons also helped develop EnVision Maunakea, an initiative to gather different perspectives on the future of Mauna Kea, and the Maunakea Fund, which advances scientific, cultural and environmental programs on the mountain.

He also has served on the Maunakea Management Board, Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, UH Manoa said it is conducting executive leadership searches for Enrollment Management, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene.

In addition, Dr. Randall F. Holcombe, director of the UH Cancer Center, announced he will leave in August to take a similar position at the University of Vermont. Bruno said he plans to recommend Deputy Director Joe W. Ramos to replace Holcombe, following a succession plan submitted to the National Cancer Institute.

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