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Centre for Advanced Instrumentation

Recent Highlights

28/09/17: Dr Lovell! Jack Lovell today passed his PhD with a thesis entitled "Development of Smart, Compact Fusion Diagnostics using Field-Programmable Gate Arrays". Congratulations Jack!

Dr Lovell

CAD drawing of the INTRAPIX optical bench.

07/09/17: Kickoff of the INTRAPIX project with CEA-Saclay

Today saw the kickoff meeting for the INTRAPIX project with CEA-Saclay, Institute of Research into the Fundamental Laws of the Universe. INTRAPIX is an optical bench dedicated to the characterization of the Intra-Pixel Sensitivity Variations of astronomical detectors, in a spectral range from visible to mid-infrared. INTRAPIX will allow the characterization, with a resolution of a fraction of pixel and a radiometric accuracy better than 10%, of each pixel of a detector array under test. The main astrophysical projects involved are either space projects such as Euclid-VIS and JWST-MIRI, or ground based projects such as E-ELT METIS (ESO) and detector R&D in the NIR to LWIR spectral ranges for ESA. The INTRAPIX project involves the CEA IRF (Saclay), CEA Grenoble (SBT) and ONERA France.

Durham’s CfAI has been commissioned to manufacture and align the INTRAPIX collimator unit located within the cryostat. The optics will be made using the world class diamond machining facilities at the Precision Optics Laboratory in Netpark.


21/08/17: Total Eclipse!

CfAI's Colin Dunlop captured these images of the spectacular total solar eclipse while on holiday in Aullville, Missouri, USA. Thank you Colin!

Image credit: Colin Dunlop

Image credit: Colin Dunlop


19/06/17: CfAI welcomes Durham International Senior Research Fellow Prof. Benny Cheung (HKPU)

Professor Benny Cheung from the Partner State Key Laboratory of Ultra-precision Machining Technology, in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, has joined CfAI for a 2 month Durham International Senior Research Fellowship in the field of ultra-precision machining. Benny has been working closely with the Precision Optics Laboratory at CfAI on the development of a novel tool-servo chiseling technology for precision manufacture of 3D micro-structured surfaces. CfAI and Prof Cheung plan to build future collaborations in this field, benefitting from each others facilities and complementary expertise.

CfAI's Precision Optics Laboratory leader Dr Cyril Bourgenot (left) and Prof Benny Cheung (right)


22/05/17: CfAi kicks off new research project with the Centre for Earth Observation Imaging (CEOI)

Today saw the kickoff meeting for a new CEOI Pathfinder project to investigate the potential of freeform curved gratings to enable the design of compact, lightweight spectrographs for Earth Observation (remote sensing) applications. The CEOI was established in order to realise an excellent, internationally competitive national Earth observation instrument and technology R&D programme, and is funded by the UK Space Agency with parallel technology investment from industry. The CfAI programme will utilise the unique diamond machining facilities at Netpark.


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.)

LEGO© ELT


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