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Global community gathers in Montréal for SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation

'Unsurpassed' breadth of topics inspires ongoing search for Earth-like planets, greater understanding the Universe

02 July 2014

Satoshi Miyazaki, SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation

In one of eight well-attended plenary talks during the conference, Satoshi Miyazaki of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan discusses the design, commissioning, and early results of the Hyper Suprime-Cam.


MONTRÉAL, Canada, and BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation once again served as the unparalleled global gathering for the worldwide community of researchers, suppliers, and project managers of large ground- and space-based telescopes. Held last week at the Palais des congrès de Montréal, the biennial meeting drew nearly 2,400 participants for six days of technical talks and a two-day exhibition featuring more than 100 companies.

"SPIE 2014 was yet another unique opportunity to meet and catch up with colleagues from around the world and listen to an incredible variety of talks," said Luc Simard, National Research Council Canada, who, along with Gillian Wright, UK Astronomy Technology Centre, served as symposium chair. "The breadth of topics at SPIE remains unsurpassed. We heard all about next-generation space- and ground-based facilities that will explore astrophysics on a grand scale from the inflationary expansion of the early Universe to the detection and characterization of Earth-like planets. The creativity and hard work of the SPIE astro community has and will continue to shape exciting, new scientific and technical endeavors worldwide for years to come."

Wright called the excitement and energy generated at the meeting "inspiring" and also emphasized the wide range of topics.

"We discussed the latest from projects that are just starting and learnt from those beginning to be used on the sky," she said "The variety and breadth of topics coupled with the opportunity for deeply technical debate is really valuable and unique."

Plenary talks on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array), the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the Gaia galaxy-mapping program, and other projects highlighted a technical program of more than 2,000 presentations and posters.

Illustrating Simard's opening comments about the valuable connection between the "back of the napkin" conversations that travel the path from brainstorm to conference presentation to proceedings paper to major mission, NASA Goddard's Mark Clampin offered slides showing an early sketch of the JWST and a subsequent formal illustration of the spacecraft (see images below).

All-conference dinner speaker René Doyon, professor at theUniversité de Montréal and Director of the Mont-Mégantic Observatory, summarized recent progress in the search for Earth-like planets, and the important role of light-based technologies such as adaptive optics and photon counting in the search quest. With new systems such as the JWST and ESA's TESS expanding the capabilities for detection even further, he said, "I don't know where we will be in ten years, but these are very exciting times."

In the words of Philip Diamond, director-general of the SKA  Organisation, the 20th century was a time when we discovered our place in the universe; the 21st century is the time to more fully understand the universe and our place in it.

The dense concentration of a large-astronomy-telescope audience makes the Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation Exhibition an unmatched opportunity to meet with new and longtime collaborators and customers, according to both exhibition visitors and company representatives.

It also makes for a busy exhibition: As Jim Arns of Kaiser Optical Systems said, "We are very pleased. I am skeptical that we sat down for much more than 10 minutes on Wednesday."

A roomful of creative software developers participated in the event's inaugural Software Hack Day, innovating their way to new applications based on existing data and software, and ranging from games to sonic representation of data to instrument comparison tools. The event was associated with the conference on Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy, and a proceedings paper summarizing the day will be prepared for the conference proceedings, said organizers Sarah Kendrew (Oxford University) and Casey Deen (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie).

SPIE President Phillip Stahl introduced three new Fellows of the Society: Mark Clampin, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Gary Matthews, Exelis Inc.; and Larry Stepp, Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp.

Conference participants are already are looking ahead to next time: SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016 will run 26 June through 1 July in Edinburgh, led by symposium chairs Colin Cunningham (UK Astronomy Technology Centre) and Masanori Iye (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan).

Conference proceedings papers are being published individually in the SPIE Digital Library as soon as approved, and will also be published in print and digital volumes.

Synopses of plenary talks and a sampling of other papers, photos, and comments from the week are posted in the event daily news at www.spie.org/x108562.xml.


JWST sketch

Planning the JWST: from sketch (above) to illustration (below).

JWST illustration


SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.


Amy Nelson
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