Astronomers and scientists gathered at the recent biennial meeting of
the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers lauded the announcement that Professor Emeritus Harold (Hal) McAlister of Georgia State was named the winner of the 2018 Michelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
This prize recognizes outstanding achievement in scientific research and facility development in optical interferometry, the area of astronomy devoted to measuring extremely fine details of stars and their environments. The winner is selected by an international panel convened by the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
McAlister launched his career at Georgia State with an ambitious program of “speckle interferometry,” a method to bypass the turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere and obtain exquisite measurements of stars and their stellar companions. Having pushed this technique to its limit, McAlister championed the development of optical long baseline interferometry, an ambitious method to connect arrays of separated telescopes to attain the power of a single enormous telescope. His work culminated in the building of Georgia State’s Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) Array, a six-telescope system located at the historic Mount Wilson Observatory in California. The CHARA Array has the largest operating baselines in the world, and it routinely delivers close-up views of the stars that are impossible to obtain by conventional telescopes.
The CHARA Array is now a focus of international collaboration, and it is open to astronomers around the nation through a program administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
McAlister retired as director of CHARA in 2015 and is now an active emeritus professor at Georgia State.
The CHARA Array is continuing to grow in capability through the application of new technologies and observing strategies, and McAlister’ legacy will continue into the next decades with new vistas on the stars.