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Apache Point Observatory founder receives presidential award

LAS CRUCES - One of the founders of New Mexico's Apache Point Observatory and a driving force behind the Sloan Digital Sky Survey recently received a presidential award.

President Barack Obama awarded James E. Gunn with the National Medal of Science for his work with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at a ceremony at the White House on Oct.7. Gunn is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy at Princeton University.

"Apache Point would not have been built without Jim Gunn pushing it along," said Kurt Anderson, site director for the observatory and astronomy professor at New Mexico State University. "We're all very happy for him."

Anderson said Gunn played a leading role in the design, construction and operation of the SDSS telescope and its instruments. He is also one of the six principal investigators on the 1984 proposal to the National Science Foundation that led to the funding and construction of Apache Point and its 3.5-meter telescope. Gunn designed and oversaw the construction of the Double Imaging Spectrograph, which is the most utilized instrument on the 3.5-meter telescope.

The SDSS is a multi-phase project to map the distribution of quasars and galaxies in space and the distribution of stars within our own galaxy. The project has already produced the most detailed three-dimensional maps to date of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the rest of the universe.

NMSU operates the observatory for the Astrophysical Research Consortium, which includes NMSU, the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Apache Point is located in the Sacramento Mountains, about 20 miles south of Cloudcroft, and is within the Lincoln National Forest.