First constructed in its early iterations in 1972, the Van Allen Observatory (VAO) is a 17-inch Corrected Dall-Kirkham reflecting telescope, owned and operated by the University of Iowa Department of Physics and Astronomy. It is stationed on the roof of Van Allen Hall in Iowa City and is open to students and community members as it is used for undergraduate astronomical laboratories and public outreach. The VAO is named after one of the greats of space science, the Physics and Astronomy Department’s Professor James Van Allen.

In addition to its Cassegrain reflector, the VAO telescope consists of a twelve-position filter wheel and high quantum efficiency charged-coupled device (CCD) camera. The Van Allen Observatory system was upgraded in 2014 with funds from the Carver Trust and is regularly updated with funds from University of Iowa Student Technology Fees.

The Van Allen Observatory dome is pictured atop Van Allen Hall along with other roof structures as viewed from the southeast. A tree with spring growth partially obscures the view.


Caroline Roberts

Caroline Roberts, Ph.D.

Van Allen Observatories Manager,
Astronomy Laboratory Coordinator
Caroline is the Astronomy Laboratory Coordinator and Van Allen Observatories Manager, supervising the experience of undergraduate students taking Astronomy lab classes in the department and overseeing the operation of the department’s 17- and 20-inch telescopes used for labs, research, and outreach. She is also a co-coordinator of the department’s “Hawkeyes in Space” outreach program and the program advisor for GradMAP, the department graduate student peer-mentoring group.