San Diego State University gets record $14 million gift to support astronomy

San Diego State University has received a $14 million donation to support its Department of Astronomy, a small program that has made big contributions in recent years, especially in finding and analyzing planets that exist far beyond the solar system.

The gift is the largest ever made to SDSU’s astronomy department, the only stand-alone program of its kind in the 23 campus California State University system.

SDSU said in a statement that the gift is in the form of a stock investment bequest from the late Theodore William Booth and his wife, the late Nhung Lu Booth, an alumna of the College of Sciences.

The astronomy department has six faculty members and about 30 undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom are dependent on scholarships.

SDSU is creating an endowment with the $14 million to fund scholarships and related needs.

“The promise of financial security will allow students to focus on their studies and their research, and that research will get them noticed,” Eric Sandquist, the department chair, said in a statement.

“Promoting the support will increase our ability to reach for students beyond San Diego and California, and to get their research out across the United States and around the world.”

The gift also will help support the Mount Laguna Observatory, which SDSU has operated in East County for decades. Comparatively few American universities have their own observatories, although many, including UC San Diego, have direct access to majority facilities, like the Keck Observatory telescopes in Hawaii.

SDSU is well-known for deep-space astronomy, especially for the work of professors Bill Welsh and Jerome Orosz. In 2012, Welsh discovered a planet that has two suns, not unlike Tatooine in the “Star Wars” movie. Orosz later did the same.