Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wiley’s South African adventure

University of Wisconsin Chancellor John Wiley spent most of November in South Africa helping launch one of the world's biggest telescopes into operation.

Funded in part by the UW Astronomy Department, the South African Large Telescope, or SALT — a five-years-in-the-making, $18 million observatory — provides an unmatched view of the universe from the southern hemisphere and promises to keep university scientists and students attuned to the skies for decades to come.

From Nov. 4 through Nov. 22, Wiley joined various UW astronomers and traveled across the Atlantic to the small village of Sunderland, near Cape Town, for SALT's dedication ceremony.


During his stay, Wiley also participated in various other university assignments and spent some vacation time on the side, but said the SALT dedication was the keynote of the trip.

"It's all done," Wiley said of the telescope. "It came in on time, on budget and it's exceeding its expectations."

One of numerous UW officials along for the trip, Chair of the Astronomy Department Eric Wilcots attended the telescope's dedication and said it is a phenomenal piece of equipment.

"The telescope's very impressive," he said. "It was great to see it fully functional."

Wilcots added SALT is a financial bargain because it can obtain impressive views from the extremely dark, dry skies of South Africa.

"I think … the telescope itself will do great things for the astronomy department and give our undergrads an opportunity they wouldn't have at other [universities]," he said.

To gain access to the telescope, Wiley said UW agreed to pay for roughly 15 percent of SALT's construction costs and in return will be allocated a respective percentage of its operation time. UW scientists will monitor SALT's images through the Internet and also commute to the site to witness the telescope first-hand.

"Fifteen percent of the time, we get to say what it's looking at," Wiley said. "Roughly 15 percent of the time, we get to decide what's the most important thing to look at tonight."

Because the nation is still healing from the detrimental affects of apartheid — finally abolished in the early '90s — South African President Thabo Mbeki has spearheaded numerous programs, such as SALT, to help catapult the country into scientific prominence among the global community.

"He really views this as a way to vault South Africa into the 21st Century," Wiley said.

By signing onto SALT, the university also included itself in a collective benefit program to exchange UW students and scientists with Western Cape University in Cape Town.

"We need to strengthen our ties all across the world," Wiley said. "This is just one example of that."

Wiley said the country is in more need of scientists and engineers and the collaboration will help bring more specialists from outside the country.

"This country has a growing problem that fewer and fewer U.S.-born citizens [are] going into science and engineering," he said. "We rely very heavily on immigrants."

Wiley added by participating in the construction of large-scale telescopes such as SALT, UW and other universities can hopefully inspire more U.S. youths to pursue science and engineering degrees.

"If you can entice young kids when that wonder is in their mind, you have a very good chance at getting them into science and engineering," he said.

While taking vacation time during the trip, Wiley visited Kruger National Park for a safari-style sightseeing excursion. For obvious safety reasons, Wiley traveled in a Land Rover for a majority of the outing.

"We drove right through a very, very large herd of Cape Buffalo," he said.

But many other aspects of the trip were business-oriented, Wiley said. In response to concerns over UW's apparel-licensing policies, Wiley consulted with the secretary general of the congress of South African trade unions.

"They've lost a lot of business to China," he said. "They're interested in working with us for sweatshop-free apparel."

Upon his arrival home, Wiley was greeted with one specific complaint that he found particularly distasteful.

"I heard about my Facebook profile," he said. "I found it, in my opinion, amusing, but kind of juvenile."

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