From UCSC: “UC Santa Cruz hosts international workshop for Thirty Meter Telescope”

UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz

September 01, 2017
Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu

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The TMT Future Leaders Workshop brought together graduate students and postdocs from Canada, China, India, Japan, UC, and Caltech. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

An international training program for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project brought more than 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to UC Santa Cruz in August for an eight-day scientific and technical workshop.

TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

Workshop participants, representing all of the TMT International Observatory’s partners (Canada, China, India, Japan, UC, and Caltech), worked on projects in small teams, visited astronomical laboratory facilities, toured Lick Observatory, and met with numerous scientists and engineers involved in TMT.

Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California

At a symposium on August 25, TMT project manager Gary Sanders gave the group an overview of the work now under way around the globe as progress on TMT moves through the final design and production phases for various components of the telescope and its instruments.

“We’re very far along. A lot of work is going on globally in a big and powerful international collaboration,” Sanders said.

The TMT Future Leaders Workshop was organized and led by the Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators (ISEE) at UC Santa Cruz. ISEE director Lisa Hunter said the workshop emphasized international collaboration and provided many opportunities for participants to apply what they learned by working in teams to propose solutions to problems currently being tackled by TMT. The intention is to train TMT’s future scientific and technical leaders.

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The workshop emphasized international collaboration, project management, and other professional skills, with the intention of training TMT’s future scientific and technical leaders. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

“We want to prepare these early-career scientists and engineers to do team science in cross-cultural collaborations,” Hunter said. “There are huge challenges in coordinating a large international project like TMT, and we hope this workshop will help stimulate collaborations across the partnership.”

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The UCSC Laboratory for Adaptive Optics was among the facilities toured by workshop participants. (Photo by Austin Barnes)

Workforce development

ISEE has a long history of working with major telescopes on education and workforce development programs. The institute got its start as part of the Center for Adaptive Optics at UC Santa Cruz and has been working with telescopes in Hawaii since 2002 and with TMT since 2009.

In Hawaii, ISEE is best known for the Akamai Workforce Initiative, which provides internships, mentoring, and support for college students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Telescopes face special challenges in creating a local workforce due to their remote sites and need for highly trained workers. Akamai prepares local college students for jobs in telescope operations and contributes to the regional workforce by supporting students across a broad range of STEM fields.

TMT is currently the major funder of the Akamai program, which has provided more than 350 internships to students from Hawaii. More than a quarter of the participants are native Hawaiian, and more than 140 Akamai alumni are now working in scientific and technical jobs in Hawaii.

Maunakea in Hawaii was chosen in 2009 as the preferred site to build and operate TMT, but in 2015 the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state’s permitting process was flawed. While proceedings to re-obtain the required permit move forward in Hawaii, TMT has also investigated alternative sites and last year chose a site in La Palma, on the Canary Islands, as the alternate site for TMT.

“We are working on two options,” Sanders said. “Maunakea is still the preferred site, but we are also working hard in the Canary Islands. Meanwhile, most of the project continues to move forward.”

New opportunities

When completed, TMT will provide new observational opportunities in essentially every field of astronomy and astrophysics. Its 30-meter primary mirror, composed of 492 hexagonal segments, will have nine times the light-collecting area of today’s largest optical telescopes, allowing TMT to reach further and see more clearly than previous telescopes by a factor of 10 to 100 depending on the observation.

The segmented-mirror design, pioneered on the 10-meter Keck telescopes, was conceived by the late Jerry Nelson, a professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and TMT project scientist, who died in June. Sanders paid homage to Nelson at the symposium, as did UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal in his opening remarks.

“His work empowered astronomers throughout the UC system and helped put us where we are today,” Blumenthal said.

The light collected by TMT’s enormous primary mirror will be directed to a sophisticated adaptive optics system and a powerful suite of scientific instruments located around the telescope. The three “first-light” instruments to be deployed when the telescope begins operations—two infrared spectrometers and one optical spectrometer—will provide unparalleled science and imaging capabilities. Work on the Wide-Field Optical Spectrometer (WFOS) is being led from UC Santa Cruz by principal investigator Kevin Bundy, one of many TMT collaborators who met with the workshop participants.

The TMT Future Leaders Workshop was sponsored by TMT and co-sponsored by University of California Observatories (UCO). It is part of an International Training Program ISEE is developing in collaboration with the TMT Workforce, Education, Public Outreach, and Communication (WEPOC) committee.

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UCO Lick Shane Telescope
UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

UC Santa Cruz campus
The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
March 23, 2015
By Hilary Lebow
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The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

“Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

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UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

“The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

“We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

“This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

“Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

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UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.