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Centre for Advanced Instrumentation

Recent Highlights

20/12/16: CfAI's Ariadna Calcines wins SEA prize!

Congratulations to Ariadna Calcines, CfAI's Leader of Image Slicer Design, who was presented with the first ever SEA prize for best PhD thesis in instrumentation at the meeting of the Spanish Astronomical Society in July this year. She has been trying not to mention it, but she has been found out!

Her thesis was entitled "Design of an integral field spectrograph for the European Solar Telescope" and was undertaken with Dr. Manuel Collados Vera at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. You can see her talking about it (in Spanish) on the Sociedad Española de Astronomía website.

Ariadna Calcines

07/12/16: Dr Brunner! Jakob Brunner today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "FPGA-based High Performance Diagnostics for Fusion". Congratulations Jakob!

Dr Brunner

29/11/16: CfAI moves to a new home in the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics

Today the members of CfAI who are based in Durham moved from their offices in the Rochester Building to the ground floor of the new Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, which was designed by the world renowned Studio Daniel Libeskind and will be offocially opened in March 2017. The new building now houses all three astronomy groups in the Department of Physics, including the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation, the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy and the Institute for Computational Cosmology. The CfAI laboratories will remain in the Rochester Building and at Netpark.

Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics

24/10/16: Dr Chorley! Joanne Chorley today passed her PhD with a thesis entitled "Plasma Physics Computations on Emerging Hardware Architectures". Congratulations Joanne!

Dr Chorley

23/08/16: CANARY lights up La Palma

The latest upgrade to the CANARY adaptive optics system was commissioned between the 19th and 25th July with the installation of the European Southern Observatory’s ‘Wendelstein’ sodium Laser Guide Star Unit (WLGSU) in a new custom-built laser enclosure next to the 4.2m William Herschel Telescope in La Palma. In this configuration, CANARY is now able to test wavefront sensing techniques and accuracy using the same geometry as that expected for the 39m European Extremely Large Telescope.

Further information on CANARY.

09/05/16: Dr Townson! Matt Townson today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Correlation Wavefront Sensing and Turbulence Profiling for Solar Adaptive Optics". Congratulations Matt!

Dr Townson

29/04/16: Stereo-SCIDAR Achieves First Light: A team from CfAI (Marc Dubbeldam, James Osborn, Saavi Perera and Richard Wilson) have been at Cerro Paranal this week and have achieved first light with their new Stereo-SCIDAR atmospheric characterisation instrument. The instrument acquired its first target within 10 minutes of going on sky - using ESO VLT Auxiliary Telescope 3. The tests were concurrent with ESO's first light of their four laser guide star system, which provided a very spectacular backdrop!

Stereo-SCIDAR on AT3 (left) and ESO 4-LGS (Image credit: Fred Kamphues/ESO)

Stereo-SCIDAR and Happy Team Members

14/03/16: Durham Optics In Space: Optics manufactured at Durham University are on-board the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission, launched on the 14th of March and is now on its way to Mars!

The University’s Precision Optics Laboratory diamond machined and characterised 5 mirrors within 2 of the NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery) high resolution spectrometers. The instrument will be able to detect and map a wide variety of Martian gases in unprecedented detail in the 2.2um-4.3um band. The instrument was integrated by OIP Sensor Systems in Belgium.

In late 2017, NOMAD will enter nominal science orbit and begin transmitting back to Earth a new and exciting range of Martian observations.

ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter (Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

NOMAD Optics

12/02/16: Dr Dimoudi! Sofia Dimoudi today passed her PhD with a thesis entitled "Computational methods and GPUs for real-time control of tomographic AO on extremely large telescopes." Sofia is now working for the Oxford e-Research Centre and is continuing her work with GPUs, applied to the handling of data for the SKA. Congratulations Sofia!

Dr Dimoudi

13/01/16: CfAI Assembles the ELT! CfAI researchers today completed the mammoth task of assembling the ELT. Designed by Dutch astronomer Frans Snik, the LEGO© ELT comprises 5274 pieces and is approximately 1:150 scale. Although the kit is faithful to the ELT design in many respects, CfAI are hopeful that the real ELT doesn't exhibit the same earthquake vibration modes as the model! (The model is on display in the Wolfendale wing, first floor corridor, outside Office 125.)


01/12/15: CTA Prototype Telescope Achieves "First Light": CfAI's Anthony Brown, Tom Armstrong and Jamie Graham were in Paris this week, participating in the first on-sky tests of the prototype Gamma-ray Cherenkov Telescope (GCT) and its super-fast photon-sensing camera. Professor Tim Greenshaw from the University of Liverpool and one of the UK co-ordinators for the project said “It’s fantastic to see the prototype GCT camera, designed in the UK and built here with the help of our GCT colleagues now in operation. This is a first for the CTA project. It’s great that UK scientists and engineers are able to contribute to international projects like CTA and hence will be able to use the data from the project to deepen our understanding of the high energy universe.” You can find further information about the successful tests on the STFC News Page and the CTA News page.

GTC Camera (Credit: Akira Okumura)

02/11/15: Dr Lomanowski! Bart Lomanowski today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Visible and Near-Infrared Divertor Spectroscopy on the MAST and JET-ILW Tokamaks". Bart will shortly take up a postdoctoral position with Aalto University working on the Joint European Torus at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. Congratulations Bart!

Dr Lomanowski

28/09/15: Blood Moon! CfAI’s Gordon Love captured these images of this morning’s lunar eclipse from his home in Yorkshire. The Moon follows an elliptical orbit around Earth, its distance varying between 225,804 and 251,968 miles throughout the year. This morning’s eclipse coincided almost exactly with the Moon’s perigee (when it is at its closest to Earth) and so appears 14% larger than when at apogee (farthest away). The previous “supermoon” eclipse took place in 1982, and won’t be repeated until 2033.

Lunar Eclipse Montage

Lunar Eclipse Montage (Credit: Gordon Love)

Here is an image of the eclipse captured by CfAI's Jürgen Schmoll from his home outside Durham - shortly before the fog rolled in!

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse (Credit: Jürgen Schmoll)

25/09/15: CfAI hosts Astrophotonics Summer School: The summer school was held in the Holgate Centre, Grey College from 21-25th September, and aimed to bring together a wide range of astronomical technologies to address one of the main scientific questions of the day - the detection and characterisation of exo-planets focussing on the training of the next generation of photonically-aware astronomers. The school included 20 lectures by experts in three fields: Astrophotonics, Adaptive Optics and Precision Spectroscopy. Young researchers also attended. The event included a trip on the Prince Bishop Boat Cruise along the River Wear, a day out at Beamish Museum and a conference dinner at Lumley Castle.

Astrophotonics Summer School

21/09/15: UK astronomers reach deep into space and time:

A three-dimensional map of the Universe, reaching deeper in space and time than any yet made, is to be produced by an international team of 200 scientists, including leading astronomers from the UK.

The high resolution map will be produced using the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), an apparatus that will observe the light from more than 30 million distant galaxies.

A collaboration of UK physicists and astronomers, including groups at the Universities of Portsmouth and Durham and University College London, will be working on the instrument, which is designed to improve our understanding of the mysterious ‘dark energy’, and how it affects the expansion history of the Universe. It will also measure the velocities of hundreds of thousands of stars in the Milky Way galaxy and provide clues about the nature of the equally mysterious dark matter.

The UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council approved funding for UK scientists to play their role in this project last year, and the U.S. Department of Energy has just approved the project’s scientific scope, schedule, and $56M funding profile. The new instrument will start taking data in 2019, and will run for 5 years, reporting its main results in the mid-2020s.

CfAI's Jeremy Allington-Smith said: “In Durham we have developed the expertise to produce extremely efficient fibre runs, which means that almost all of the precious light from these faint objects is usable at the end. It’s great to put this expertise to such an important use.”

The US press release can be found on the Berkeley Lab News Center.

A few of the 5,000 close-packed robotic positioners that place the ends of optical fibers to collect the light from a single galaxy or quasar. (Image R. Lafever, DESI Collaboration)

07/09/15: Dr Parnell! Jared Parnell today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Depth Perception in Humans and Animals". He will shortly be joining BBC Scotland as a software engineer. Congratulations Jared!

Dr Parnell

19/08/15: Dr Mitchell! Tom Mitchell today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Adaptive beam control and analysis in fluorescence microscopy". Congratulations Tom!

10/08/15: How Pupil Shape Can Help Animals Survive:

CfAI research has found that pupil shape can be directly linked to an animal’s place on the food chain, as either the hunter or the prey.

CfAI's Gordon Love, Jared Parnell and Jürgen Schmoll worked in collaboration with Professor Martin Banks from University of California, Berkeley to try and explain why animals have evolved with different shaped pupils.

They have found that animals with vertical elongated pupils, like foxes and domestic cats, are much more likely to be ambush predators, whilst animals with horizontal elongated pupils, like sheep, goats and deer, are more likely to be plant-eating prey.

Further details can be found on the University news page.

The paper describing the work can be found on Science Advances.

A more general article can be found on The Conversation.

Animal Pupil Shape

22/07/15: Dr Jones! Owen Jones today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Experimental fast-ion transport studies on the Mega-Amp Spherical Tokamak". Owen has now taken up a a postdoc position at CEA Cadarache (via Aix-Marseille University) to work on diagnostic development for WEST. Congratulations Owen!

Dr Jones

02/07/15: Paula Chadwick awarded the 2015 Bragg Medal and Prize! CfAI's Paula Chadwick has been awarded the 2015 Bragg Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics for developing the successful concept of Group Industrial Projects: a UK-wide scheme to engage physics undergraduates with industry. The full story can be found on the Department of Physics news page. Congratulations Paula!

Prof Paula Chadwick

10/06/15: Dr Reeves! Andrew Reeves today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Laser Guide Star Only Adaptive Optics: The development of tools and algorithms for the determination of laser guide star tip-tilt". Andrew will be remaining with CfAI and has been awarded STEP funding by STFC to continue exploring the ideas he developed during his PhD:trying to make Adaptive Optics work using only laser guide starts (without natural guide stars to help). Andrew will also be working on adaptive optics for space telescopes in collaboration with TNO and Airbus. Congratulations Andrew!

Dr Reeves

17/04/15: Fusion training ends with a bang! Twelve students from the Fusion Centre for Doctoral Training spent an enjoyable week with CfAI. They received training in: principles of optical engineering; systems engineering; project management; and data interfacing techniques. During the morning of the last day, the students were able to gain experience with two brand new Photron FASTCAM SA4 cameras capable of recording images at up to 500,000 frames per second. These cameras will ultimately be used to capture the high speed events observed in fusion experiments, the students however had to improvise with simpler experiments such as watching balloons burst! (Click on the images below to watch the video)

Water Balloon Burst AVI

Water Balloon Burst

Balloon Burst 20000fps AVI

Balloon Burst 20,000fps

Balloon Burst 30000fps AVI

Balloon Burst 30,000fps

01/04/15: DESI:UK Funded by STFC

CfAI have been awarded £759K by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to lead the construction of the optical fibre system for a major spectroscopic survey instrument called DESI which will measure the effect of dark energy on the expansion of the universe. This award is part of a larger grant for the DESI:UK consortium that will ensure cosmologists at Durham, UCL and Portsmouth (and elsewhere in the UK) have early access to data taken by the survey which is due to begin in 2018.

More information on DESI is available at:

10/03/15: Dr Lawton! Penny Lawton today passed her PhD entitled "Developing Optical Tweezers, Spectroscopy and Microfluidics to Investigate High Volume Consumer Products". She will be staying with CfAI and continuing her work in biophotonics. Congratulations Penny!

02/12/14: RSI publication for Tom Mitchell: CfAI PhD student Tom Mitchell has had a paper published in the AIP Review of Scientific Instruments. Tom's paper "Quantitative high dynamic range beam profiling for fluorescence microscopy" describes a novel method of performing accurate beam diagnostics using a miniature endoscope directly within the illumination beam of a fluorescence microscope. Full details can be found on the AIP website.

18/11/14: Dr Silburn! Scott Silburn today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "A Doppler Coherence Imaging Diagnostic for the Mega-Amp Spherical Tokamak". Scott has now taken up a new post at the Joint European Torus (JET), located at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. Congratulations Scott!

Dr Silburn

12/11/14: Durham becomes an NVIDIA CUDA (parallel computing) Research Centre:

CfAI's Nigel Dipper has played an instrumental role in Durham becoming the latest NVIDIA CUDA (parallel computing) Research Centre. NVIDIA Graphics Processing Units (GPU) are being used for parallel processing all across the University from Physics to the Humanities. They are programmed using a programming environment called CUDA. When Nigel applied to NVIDIA for CfAI to become a CUDA Research Centre, they suggested instead that Durham University become such a centre. So, in collaboration with the Institute of Advanced Research Computing (iARC), Nigel and colleagues applied, citing work in cosmology, adaptive optics, computer vision, molecular dynamics, tsunami prediction and much more. NVIDIA decided to highlight the work on cosmology simulations and adaptive optics on their blog when they announced the new Durham Centre. However, this closer relationship with NVIDIA should benefit researchers across all of the University. As they say on their blog: "World renowned for teaching and research, Durham is using HPC to deepen our understanding of astronomy."

Durham, new NVIDIA CUDA Research Center

07/11/14: Dr Nandi!  David Nandi also passed his PhD viva today with a thesis entitled "The Use of Hyperspectral Imaging for Remote Sensing, and the Development of a Novel Hyperspectral Imager". David has now taken up a programming job in the City. Congratulations David!

Dr Nandi

07/11/14: Dr Fohring!  Dora Fohring today passed her PhD entitled "The effect of scintillation on ground-based exoplanet transit photometry". Dora has now taken up a new post as a EUMETSAT research fellow at Deutscher Wetterdienst in Germany. Congratulations Dora!

Dr Fohring

15/09/14: Adapting to the Atmosphere Conference, 2014:

An international conference, sponsored by TMT, ESO and the FP7 Opticon Network for Astronomy, was hosted by the CfAI Optical Turbulence Group, September 15-17, 2014. The conference focused on the interface between atmospheric characterisation and the requirements for astronomical adaptive optics, bringing together more than 70 experts in these fields. More details can be found in the conference web pages.

05/06/14: Robotic SLODAR system installed at BOAO, South Korea:

An automated SLODAR turbulence profiling instrument has been installed at the Bohyunsan Optical Astronomy Observatory in South Korea. The instrument, constructed by CfAI in collaboration with the Kongju National University, will carry out a statistical characterisation of the atmospheric optical turbulence above the observatory site. The project is lead by Dr Tim Butterley at Durham and Prof. Jun Ho Lee at the Kongju National University.