Richard Huguenin as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Massachusetts, after his resignation from the University faculty in order to found Millitech, Inc. Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts Archives
G. Richard Huguenin
Contributed by William Irvine
G. Richard Huguenin was born Nov. 6, 1937, in East Stroudsburg, Penn. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959 and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1963. He held a research position at Harvard University from 1963 to 1968, and a faculty position at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1968 to 1982. Throughout his career Dr. Huguenin authored numerous professional and technical publications, and received several professional honors, including the Bart J. Bok Prize, a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology, an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts, and a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Huguenin realized early in his career that new scientific results in radio astronomy flowed from the development of innovative instrumentation. He built a team for this purpose at the Harvard College Observatory, where he directed Harvard's Space Radio Astronomy program that studied rapid time variations in the radio emission from solar flares. This equipment turned out to be perfect for observing pulsars, which had been discovered in 1967 at Cambridge University in the UK, and Huguenin and his co-workers made the first American discoveries of pulsars (the rapidly rotating remnants of collapsed stars). In 1968 he moved his team to the University of Massachusetts.
At that time the Astronomy Program at the University of Massachusetts lacked a major observational facility. Richard Huguenin proposed a solution --- build a radio observatory! Funding the capital costs of a new, powerful radio telescope seemed an almost insurmountable task, but Huguenin had a plan. He had brought from Harvard a staff of 3 radio engineers, 3 technicians, and a postdoctoral research associate, and he proposed to build the telescope "in house." The largest radio telescope in the world capable of observing pulsars was then the1000-foot diameter Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. Building another such giant telescope in New England was impossible. But a comparable effective collecting area could, Huguenin reasoned, be duplicated at much less expense by building an array of many smaller telescopes, each designed to be constructed by relatively unskilled labor using inexpensive materials. Huguenin envisioned an array of 32 such "mini-Arecibos," each 120 feet in diameter, linked electronically to act as a single instrument. As a start he proposed building four such dishes, providing a sensitivity comparable to that of the 250-foot Jodrell Bank telescope in the UK, which was then, as now, producing important research on pulsars and other astronomical objects. Each of the proposed antennas would have a fixed reflector, whose beam on the sky would be pointed by moving the feed element. The reflector would be constructed by suspending cables from an outside perimeter consisting of a ring girder supported by 26 utility (telephone) poles, covering the cables with inexpensive wire mesh, and then tying down the surface into a spherical shape. Three larger utility poles (70 feet in height) in the center of each antenna would support a rotating truss carrying the antenna feed, itself moveable to cover ±36° of sky from the zenith (Huguenin's team had designed a similar moveable feed for the 300-foot transit telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia). The reflectors would be designed to operate from 50 to 500 MHz, that is, at meter-wavelengths. Various possible sites were evaluated, and a location on the Prescott Peninsula within the Quabbin Reservation was chosen, some 20 minute's drive from the University.
The Astronomy Program at the University of Massachusetts participates in the Five College Astronomy Department, which links Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Hampshire College, and the University. Each member of this consortium contributed funds for the construction of the new facility, which was consequently named the Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory (FCRAO), with Richard Huguenin as Director. Nonetheless, the budget was minimal, so that construction of the antennas was truly a do-it-yourself endeavor. An old telephone company line truck was obtained to drill holes for the utility poles. However, its lifting arm was too short to pick up the tallest poles above their center of mass, so that graduate students and faculty had to act as ballast when these poles were inserted into the ground. The first Observatory antenna was completed in November 1970, and the first observations of pulsars were made in December of that year. Ultimately four such antennas were constructed. The most important FCRAO discovery during this period was in fact made at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico using electronics developed at FCRAO. Professor Joseph Taylor and graduate student Russell Hulse discovered the first binary pulsar, providing the first observational evidence for the existence of Einstein's predicted gravitational waves and winning them a Nobel Prize.
Interest in the construction of additional "mini-Arecibo" antennas was, however, rapidly replaced by the excitement generated by the unexpected discovery of molecules in space emitting at millimeter wavelengths. A collaboration with Chalmers Technical University in Sweden and the Electronic Space Systems Corporation (ESSCO) in Massachusetts raised the possibility of acquiring a new radio telescope which would be the largest in the US operating at millimeter wavelengths.
With NSF support, the new 14-meter diameter FCRAO telescope was dedicated in 1976 at a ceremony at the Quabbin site, highlighted by a speech in which local Congressman Silvio Conte speculated that scientific research at the Observatory would contribute to curing cancer.
The FCRAO 14-meter telescope operated for 30 years, and astronomers from more than 130 institutions from around the world utilized its data to produce more than 1000 research papers on the solar system, our Milky Way galaxy, and other galaxies throughout the universe.
However, in 1982, Huguenin left the academic community and during his subsequent career founded several corporations in the millimeter wave technology industry, including Millitech, Inc., Millivision, Inc., Millimetrix, LLC, and Millivision, LLC. He also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Massachusetts system. He ultimately moved to the Northwest, where he died in 2012 in Sedro-Woolley, Washington.