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Walter Massey will lead telescope organization./Photo courtesy School of the Art Institute 0

A new chapter in the telescopic life of Walter Massey

November 22nd, 2016

Chicago businessman Walter Massey has been named board chair of the organization overseeing construction of the massive Giant Magellan Telescope in the Chilean Andes.

At about 81 feet, it will be the largest optical telescope in the world when it goes online in 2022.

“It’s one of the most exciting and important scientific projects, in any field, under way, and it has true potential to play a major role in developing programs and opportunities for the future of astronomical discovery,” he told me. “It will help us answer important questions about the origins of the universe and conditions for life on other planets.”

Massey came to be part of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization through his work sitting on the board at University of Chicago, which is one of 11 partners on the telescope project.

He’ll oversee the management team as it builds the telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

So how did Massey, who most recently headed the School of the Art Institute, come to lead such a scientific organization?

He’s a science geek.

In the 1990s, while director of the National Science Foundation, Massey oversaw a controversial $205 million research project–the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory–that resulted in a massive discovery: gravitational ripples created by black holes colliding. The research opens doors to understanding the cosmos.

In his long career, Massey also physics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Brown University and University of Chicago. He headed Argonne National Laboratory. And he was a university administrator and leader at Brown, the University of California system and Atlanta’s Morehouse College, his alma mater.

After a stint as board chairman of Bank of America in Chicago, he became president of the School of the Art Institute in 2010. Earlier this year he transitioned to part-time chancellor.

“Dr. Massey has an outstanding record of enabling breakthrough science through stewardship of major research facilities,” including LIGO,  Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt said in a release.

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