By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.) – A recent gift by geosciences professor Dr. Gerald Ruth ensures that his influence on the natural science programs at IU Southeast will continue to be felt for years to come.
In August, Ruth committed more than $31,000 to the university for the purpose of purchasing a state-of-the-art computerized mount and dual telescope system for the IU Southeast observatory. The mount is the Astrophysics 1600 GTO, whose precision pointing and range of tracking over time will enable observers to follow the movements of the international space station and, when the telescopes are fitted with cameras, take extended exposures of deep space.
“These are the best instruments for the site,” Ruth said. “I wanted to leave a real legacy.”
Another part of that legacy is a dual dipole radio telescope, built this past year by Ruth and student Ed Schubert.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Ruth received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in Bloomington and began teaching at IU Southeast in 1965. At that time, the university was still based in downtown Jeffersonville. During his 50-year tenure at IU Southeast, Ruth has seen the campus established in New Albany, and he estimates he has taught over 14,000 students.
Yet Ruth’s path to an academic life was not linear.
“I disliked public schooling,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get home each day and go either to the museum or playground.”
When Ruth was 12, his mother challenged him to get involved in something – anything – academic. He joined a number of scientific clubs and societies for adults at the Buffalo Museum of Science, where he was exposed to geology, archeology, photography and other disciplines. Much to his own surprise, he fell in love with astronomy.
“I learned to grind, polish and parabolize a six-inch aperture telescope mirror lens within a few millionths of an inch – and I still use this telescope that I completed when I was 14 years old,” Ruth said.
“My academic career was launched by the Ph.D. curators with whom I developed a one-to-one relationship that continued through my college years,” Ruth said. Prominent among them was Dr. Shirley Jones, one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy at Harvard University.
Ruth and a student, Gary Melton, founded the IU Southeast Astronomical Society (IUSAS) in 1982. That same year, the original IU Southeast observatory was built by members of the IUSAS and workers from the IU Southeast Physical Plant. It’s a small wooden structure that is rolled by hand off its concrete foundation when the 14-inch telescope is used to view the western sky.
In 2001, Ruth was awarded a grant from the Caesars Riverboat Foundation (now the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County) and matching funding from IU Southeast to build a permanent observatory on the darker northeast part of campus. It housed a seven-inch refractor telescope that was used primarily to view deep-sky objects and for photometry measurements of pulsating stars.
Among numerous prestigious involvements, Ruth is past President of the American Society of Cartographers, a past senior director of the Indiana Academy of Social Sciences and a recipient of the IU Southeast Distinguished Research and Creativity Award. In 1992, as a result of his contribution to the measurement of the planetoid Vesta, he was selected to participate in the first summer institute for astronomy research techniques at the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University. He later replicated this course at IU Southeast and is also directly responsible for establishing the B.A. degree program in Geography.
Ruth said the new telescope will enable observers to see bright stars in the daytime and also to view the phases of Venus during daylight hours.
While his current gift is financial, Ruth has been giving of himself to IU Southeast in countless ways for half a century. Whether as researcher, educator or coach of the IU Southeast men’s tennis team, his legacy is unquantifiable.
Ruth’s generosity is not limited to the Southeast campus. He has also endowed an annual scholarship in the IU School of Optometry, open to students who agree to perform volunteer work in underdeveloped countries. The scholarship honors Dr. James Hurt, the optometrist who made the rare discovery and coordinated the surgery on Ruth for closed angle glaucoma, saving his sight.
“Giving is like receiving,” said Ruth. “It’s like a gift to me. I feel like I benefit beyond belief.”
Dr. Ruth will be among those recognized at a faculty/staff reception on Oct. 28 for service to IU Southeast. The IU Southeast observatory off Grant Line Road is open to the public for telescope viewings on the first weekend of every month. For more information contact the School of Natural Sciences at 812-941-2284.