Lead Google engineer heads for the stars

Wayne Rosing is named by the University of California, Davis, as its first senior fellow in mathematical and physical sciences.

Google's lead engineer is leaving for the stars.

Wayne Rosing
Wayne Rosing

Wayne Rosing has stepped down from his post as Google's vice president of engineering to focus on astronomy, his passion since childhood. Rosing has been named by the University of California, Davis, as its first senior fellow in mathematical and physical sciences.

Rosing, who was one of the company's top nine executives when it filed for its IPO in August, is the first of that group to leave his post. He will remain an adviser to Google.

"Wayne Rosing has made transformational contributions to the computer industry," Winston Ko, dean of the university's division of mathematical and physical sciences, said in a statement. "We expect him, as a senior fellow of mathematical and physical sciences at UC Davis, to make equally transformational contributions to the field of his passion--cosmology."

Rosing can certainly afford to pursue new interests. He earned $776,556 in salary and bonuses last year at Google. The value of his exercisable stock options at the end of last year fell just shy of $28 million, according to a government filing.

Rosing will work on the proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. The telescope, which may be completed by 2012, is meant to find dark matter and dark energy created by gravity-bending light from distant galaxies.

Scientists believe much of the universe is made up of dark matter--nonluminous objects detectable only by their gravitational force--and dark energy--a mysterious form of matter characterized by a large, negative pressure. This is the only form of matter that can cause the expansion of the universe to accelerate, or speed up, and the telescope will be used to record the "entire visible sky" every three nights by taking exposures every 10 seconds, according to a statement from the university. The telescope, which will include a 3-billion-pixel digital camera, will gather 30 terabytes of data per night, the statement said. This will allow astronomers to study fast-moving objects, such as comets and asteroids.

"It's the most important question in all of physics: What is this unseen matter and energy?" Rosing said in a statement.

The former head of Google's engineering became interested in astronomy in grade school--to the point that he built his own telescopes.

CNET News.com's Alorie Gilbert contributed to this report.

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