Today@Sam Article

Groundbreaking Celebrates A Gift Written In The Stars

March 27, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti


Sam Houston State University faculty, administrators and supporters convened on March 24 to celebrate a generous gift at the groundbreaking ceremony for the future Dominey Observatory.

Barbara Dominey and Matthew BetheaStargazing is something Barbara Dominey holds dear to her heart, because it brings back special memories with her late husband, Sam.

“We would sit under the trees at the ranch, watch the Milky Way and listen to the wind in the trees,” she recalled.

To honor Sam and carry-on his passion for discovery, Barbara made the decision to provide a generous gift to SHSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. This support will have a lasting impact, not only for students and faculty, but also the community, allowing the department to remodel and enlarge the public observatory located near Highway 19 northeast of Huntsville.

The first phase of park development will feature a new state-of-the-art observatory with a domed retractable roof that is fully ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible.  This is made possible by the unique design of the new Dominey telescope, which brings the eyepiece down to a steady seated height using a special periscope attachment. Dual stairways connected to the main viewing platform will allow for large groups to enjoy this amazing telescope very efficiently, and a lift will provide access for people who are in chairs or who have limited mobility.  

rendering of SHSU Dominey Observatory“The fact that the Dominey family’s gift is offered in memory of a graduate from our own department, who exemplified the spirit of creative problem solving, adds great meaning,” said Joel Walker, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The new Dominey Observatory will be a hub for public science engagement, a cornerstone of our recruiting and outreach strategy, a center of active research experiences for astronomers-in-training and a retreat for quiet appreciation of the magnificence of our universe. It will continue to enrich the educational experience of untold thousands of Bearkats and members of our community long into the future.”

Graduating early in 1952 to join the U.S. Army as a private, Sam Dominey’s passion for physics and astronomy started at SHSU and set the groundwork for what would be a successful and innovative career. He developed nuclear military aircraft and made amazing discoveries—creating a way to measure neutrons and the invention of an in-flight system for helicopter blade crack detection.

ground2As a young physics student at SHSU, Sam uncovered a part of the department’s history when he found an antique telescope in the university’s storage.

“Recognizing its usefulness and value, Mr. Dominey refurbished the telescope so that it could be used by the astronomy lab where he worked as a teaching assistant, preserving it for another generation,” Walker said.

Now, decades later, the department intends to proudly display the historic instrument, which has been identified as one of only four intact specimens from the original 18 telescopes manufactured by Alvan Clark & Sons, in the new observatory. 

“It is a pleasure to give to the university on behalf my husband and I. Sam glowingly spoke of the telescope he resurrected and his studies at the university,” Barbara said. “His love of the heavens knew no boundaries and now he is among the heavens.”

The observatory is expected to open in the Fall 2023 semester. Future plans for additional development include an amphitheater, a retractable roof student observatory with 8-12 smaller telescopes, a shaded outdoor study/rest area, and a path with interactive exhibits.


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