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Astronomy

In Memoriam: Astronomer and astrophysicist Jerry Nelson

SPIE Classics remembers SPIE Fellow Jerry Nelson.

13 June 2017, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2201706.02

SPIE Fellow Jerry Nelson passed away 10 June at age 73SPIE Fellow and pioneering astronomer Jerry Nelson died 10 June at his Santa Cruz home. He was 73.

Known for his pioneering 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.

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.

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