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In memoriam: Astronomer and astrophysicist Jerry Nelson

16 June 2017

Jerry Nelson
Jerry Nelson

SPIE Fellow Jerry Nelson, a professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California Santa Cruz, and a pioneering astronomer known for his innovative designs for advanced telescopes, died 10 June at his home in Santa Cruz. He was 73.

Known for his groundbreaking work designing segmented mirror telescopes, Nelson's innovation was to piece together a large mirror from a number of smaller tiles, which would be much lighter. He devised a way to grind the tiles into the unusual asymmetric shapes needed and a system of sensors, actuators, and computer control to make the tiles act as a single reflecting surface.

Nelson was a professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz; a project scientist for the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, and had served as project scientist for the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii from 1985 through 2012.

As founding director of the Center for Adaptive Optics, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center based at UC Santa Cruz, Nelson helped pioneer the use of adaptive optics in astronomy.

In June 2010, he was interviewed at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation symposium in San Diego, where he was a keynote speaker.

An interview with Jerry Nelson

Also in 2010, Nelson was named a winner of the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics -- along with Ray Wilson, formerly of Imperial College London and the European Southern Observatory, and Roger Angel, of the University of Arizona -- for innovations in the field of telescope design.

The University of California Santa Cruz published the following obituary and is planning a symposium to honor Nelson, aptly titled, Nelsonfest, 13 -14 July 2017.