As a young boy in El Sereno, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, Allan Markowitz was fascinated with astronomy.

Nearby Caltech helped fan and fuel Markowitz’s lifelong interest in the cosmos. So it made sense to reach out to the Institute when he arranged his estate plans.

"When I initiated the contact, I was thinking about where a bequest would do the most good," says Markowitz, who now lives in Pasadena, "and here in my neighborhood is Caltech, an institution I have admired my whole life."

As a boy, Markowitz came to campus with his mother for astronomy talks in the Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series. 

"Kids are always enthralled by the biggest, the best, the farthest,” he says. “I was taken with the idea of stars being so far away. Learning about something I’d never be able to experience in person really fascinated me. It still does.” 

When Markowitz attended college, only a few dozen institutions nationwide allowed students to specialize in astronomy. He pursued the subject as an undergraduate at Pasadena City College and UCLA before enrolling at Ohio State University, where he was a member of the astronomy PhD program’s third graduating class. 

After earning his doctorate, Markowitz returned to Southern California and founded a wholesale craft-supply business in the San Gabriel Valley. While he led the company for 24 years, he sustained his connection to astronomy by teaching two or three nights a week at Citrus College in Glendora, California.

"At five o'clock, I would take off one hat and put on the other,” Markowitz says. “It kept me up on some of the latest advances. Astronomy is a very dynamic field.”

Among the several thousand students he taught over almost two decades, some of those he remembers best, including priests, nuns, and medical doctors, had returned to higher education for their own enrichment.

"The older students often were the most interesting,” he says. “They asked the most questions. They had other careers and came to astronomy because it was of real interest to them, not because they had to take the course.”

Markowitz and his partner, Ellen Weinstein, joined the Caltech Associates in 2016. The two enjoy attending talks on topics ranging from autonomous robots to biomedical breakthroughs. They also like the access to the Athenaeum, the Institute’s private membership club, that Associates membership confers.

After Markowitz provided for the astronomy program at Ohio State, establishing a bequest intention with Caltech seemed like a natural next step. 

Markowitz sees his planned gift as proof that one does not have to be extremely wealthy to contribute to scientific progress.

"I'm not a rich person, and I want to make that plain,” he says. “A lot of people think that those who give money to universities must be rich. The truth is, you can give at any level.”

When he consulted with Caltech’s fundraising team, Markowitz was happy to find that he could direct funds from his estate to endow support for exoplanet research, an area of great interest to him. 

"For centuries, astronomers anticipated that there were planets around stars other than the sun, but we were never able to see them,” he says. “Then, in 1995, scientists actually detected planets around another star. It was amazing.”

Planetary science, including the study of exoplanets, is a funding priority for Break Through: The Caltech Campaign. Institute investigators aim to unravel some of humankind’s most profound mysteries: Where do we come from? Are we alone?

On campus and at JPL, researchers are using data from Earth- and space-based telescopes to create new knowledge about distant worlds. This work runs the gamut from observations of planet-forming regions around other stars to the analysis of planetary atmospheres. Caltech also hosts the NASA Exoplanet Archive, an electronic catalog that supports research into extrasolar planets and their host stars.

More than six decades after Markowitz first set foot on Caltech’s campus, he is helping to ensure that Institute astronomers and planetary scientists in the years ahead will have resources to follow their curiosity about worlds beyond our solar system.

"I've always known Caltech as the pinnacle of astronomical research," he says. "My gift is an investment in the future."