Richard F. Caris, a friend and valued supporter of astronomy and the University of Arizona for whom the UA's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab was renamed in the fall of 2015, died on Aug. 9 in his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 81.
Caris was the founder of Interface Inc., a world leader in force measurement solutions including custom load cells for large telescope mirror support systems such as those built and used by the UA. His philanthropy was inspired by his readings of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. As Caris said, "Carnegie’s entrepreneurial spirit and gift of monies and support to 'just get it done' was a very admirable trait and a way of making sure I was supporting the right causes."
For more than 15 years, Caris shared his curiosity, passion and drive to get things done with the UA's Steward Observatory, Astronomy Camp, Mount Lemmon Sky Center and Mirror Lab. His financial support helped initiate the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project and — through a December 2014 gift of $20 million — enabled the UA to be a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope. When the construction of the GMT is completed in 2025 in Chile, it will be the largest optical telescope ever built, having an effective 25-meter diameter primary mirror.
The Mirror Lab, built in 1980 and located underneath the east wing of Arizona Stadium, is now the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab in honor of the gift by Caris. For more than a decade, Caris was involved with the Arizona Astronomy Board, an advisory and philanthropic support panel for the UA Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. He gave more than $2 million to fund the primary/tertiary mirror for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile.
Under the leadership of its director, UA Regents' Professor Roger Angel, the Mirror Lab has earned international recognition for producing giant, lightweight mirrors of unprecedented power for a new generation of optical and infrared telescopes.
A short film tribute to Caris was shown at the rededication of the Mirror Lab. UA President Ann Weaver Hart said, "The Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab is critical to the state of Arizona. It has world-class physics, world-class optics and world-class manufacturing right here under Arizona Stadium. Mr. Caris has helped make this possible through his vision and philanthropy."