TMT Breaks Ground

Today at 3 p.m. PDT, a groundbreaking and blessing ceremony approximately 14,000 feet above sea level, near the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea, will officially kick off construction for the next-generation Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

The ceremony, preceded by pre-recorded science segments, can be viewed live beginning at 2:15 p.m. PDT. Log on to TMT.org/buildingTMT to watch the groundbreaking ceremonies. Viewers worldwide are welcome to send greetings to TMT (@TMTHawaii) via the hashtag #buildingTMT.

Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory (TIO) board and chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara, will deliver the groundbreaking program's opening remarks, followed by Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie and Hawaii County Mayor William Kenoi. The program will conclude with a traditional Hawaiian ceremony that will include Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum. Also in attendance will be Provost Edward Stolper; Board of Trustees Chair David Lee (PhD, '74); Senior Trustee Walter L. Weisman and Life Trustee Gordon Moore (PhD, '54); Tom Soifer (BS, '68), Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy; Ed Stone, the David Morrisroe Professor of Physics and TIO executive director; and other members of the Caltech administration and faculty.

When completed, TMT will be the world's most advanced optical/near-infrared observatory, offering the highest-definition views ever achieved of planets orbiting nearby stars and the first stars and galaxies in the distant universe, and enabling researchers to tackle some of humanity's most fundamental and elusive questions.

Caltech, in collaboration with the University of California and scientists from Japan, China, India, and Canada, and with generous financial support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, spearheaded the design and construction of the $1.4 billion project, which was first conceived more than a decade ago.

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TMT Groundbreaking Launches New Era of Discovery

Construction officially has begun near the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea on what will be the largest telescope on the planet: the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

"It is both exhilarating and intimidating to have reached this point," says Tom Soifer, professor of physics and Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech. "It is exhilarating because of the enormous amount of effort it has taken us to get here and because, now that we are at the groundbreaking, TMT—and the scientific opportunities it brings—becomes much more real. It is intimidating because we've only just begun the work."

TMT, which is scheduled to begin observations in the early 2020s, will join the family of observatories already on Mauna Kea, including Caltech's twin 10-meter telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory, the current record-holder for the largest optical and infrared telescope in the world.

At 10 to 100 times more sensitive than Keck—depending on the type of observation—TMT is designed to tackle the most challenging questions of the cosmos, such as whether there is life on planets beyond the solar system, the nature of dark energy and dark matter, and the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Wide-angle view of 200-inch Hale Telescope
Credit: Scott Kardel

Caltech has played a leading role in the conception, design, and construction of the TMT, the latest (and greatest) of the Institute's pioneering efforts to build the most powerful observatories in the world. In the early 20th century, astronomer George Ellery Hale, one of the founders of Caltech, spearheaded the construction of the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory, which stood as the largest telescope for 45 years until 1993 when Caltech and the University of California built the W. M. Keck Observatory. The Hale Telescope, as it became known, helped astronomers measure the expansion of the universe and discover exotic, bright objects called quasars, among numerous other achievements.

The twin 10-meter Keck telescope domes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Credit: Rick Peterson/WMKO

Caltech was also instrumental in the design and construction of Keck, which has become the preeminent optical and infrared observatory in the world. Over the last two decades, astronomers from around the globe—including many at Caltech—have used the twin Keck telescopes to detect planets beyond the solar system and peer into other planetary systems; probe the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy; learn how the universe has evolved since the Big Bang, how galaxies form, and how stars are born; and to study dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up most of the universe's mass, and dark energy, the enigmatic force that's expanding the universe at an ever-faster rate.

The design of TMT and its instruments are based on Keck—only bigger, faster, and better. For example, each Keck telescope comprises 36 hexagonal mirror segments, which together act as a 10-meter-wide mirror. TMT, on the other hand, will have 492 segments that function as a 30-meter-wide mirror.

With such light-gathering ability, state-of-the-art instruments, and a first-ever fully integrated adaptive optics system to cancel out the blurring effects of the atmosphere, TMT will be able to see farther and more clearly than Keck or any other telescope at the same optical and infrared wavelengths.

For example, it will capture unprecedented images of planets beyond our solar system, revealing their atmospheres and environments in detail, and bring astronomers closer to answering the question of whether there is life elsewhere in the universe.

TMT will study how galaxies form and evolve, and how they're distributed across the universe. By exploring the large-scale structure of the universe and how it has changed over time, astronomers can probe dark energy and dark matter, as-yet invisible stuff that seems to interact only gravitationally with ordinary matter like stars. Both comprise the vast majority of the matter and energy in the universe and remain one of the most confounding questions in science.

The telescope will peer back in time to observe the first galaxies that came into existence 13 billion years ago, unveiling an era of cosmic history just beyond the reach of current telescopes.

TMT will study black holes that are millions to billions of times as massive as the sun and reside at the center of distant galaxies. It will also examine enormous explosions known as gamma-ray bursts, which are the most powerful events in the universe.

But what has many astronomers the most excited is not the expected discoveries, but the surprises that await, says Ed Stone, Caltech's David Morrisroe Professor of Physics and executive director of the TMT International Observatory, an international partnership that includes Caltech, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Japan, and the University of California. "It's not just about understanding better what you already know but learning what you didn't even know was out there," he says.

These future discoveries, Soifer adds, would not be possible were it not for the vision and continuing support of Caltech's collaborators and partners. "Gordon and Betty Moore and the Moore Foundation have been essential to getting TMT where we are today," Soifer says. That support began with a gift of $140 million to Caltech and the University of California to develop the early concept of a telescope larger than Keck. "The foundation has continued to provide the critical support that has allowed the project to continue," he says. "TMT is a testament to the Moore Foundation, our ingenuity, and the spirit of exploration."

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014
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Caltech Researchers Receive NIH BRAIN Funding

On September 30, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its first round of funding in furtherance of President Obama's "Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnology"—or BRAIN—Initiative. Included among the 58 funded projects—all of which, according to the NIH, are geared toward the development of "new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action"—are six projects either led or co-led by Caltech researchers.

The Caltech projects are:

"Dissecting human brain circuits in vivo using ultrasonic neuromodulation"

Doris Tsao, assistant professor of biology
Mikhail Shapiro, assistant professor of chemical engineering

Tsao and Shapiro are teaming up to develop a new technology that both uses ultrasound to map and determine the function of interconnected brain networks and, ultimately, to change neural activity deep within the brain. "This would open new horizons for understanding human brain function and connectivity, and create completely new options for the noninvasive treatment of brain diseases such as intractable epilepsy, depression, and Parkinson's disease," Tsao says. "The key," Shapiro adds, "is to gain a precise understanding of the various mechanisms by which sound waves interact with neurons in the brain so we can use ultrasound to produce very specific neurological effects. We will be able to do this across the full spectrum, from molecules up to large model organisms."

"Modular nanophotonic probes for dense neural recording at single-cell resolution"

Michael Roukes, Robert M. Abbey Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering
Thanos Siapas, professor of computation and neural systems

Roukes, Siapas, and their colleagues at Columbia University and Baylor College of Medicine propose to build ultra-dense arrays of miniature light-emitting and light-sensing probes using advanced silicon "chip" technology that permits their production en masse. These probes open the new field of integrated neurophotonics, Roukes says, and will permit simultaneous recording of the electrical activity of hundreds of thousands to, ultimately, millions of neurons, with single-cell resolution, in any given region of the brain. "The instrumentation we'll develop will enable us to observe the trafficking of information, in vivo, in brain circuits on an unprecedented scale, and to correlate this activity with behavior," he says.

"Time-Reversal Optical Focusing for Noninvasive Optogenetics"

Changhuei Yang, professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering, and medical engineering
Viviana Gradinaru, assistant professor of biology

Deep-brain stimulation has been used successfully for nearly two decades for the treatment of epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, chronic pain, depression, and other disorders. Current systems rely on electrodes implanted deep within the brain to modify the firing pattern of specific clusters of neurons, bringing them back into a more normal pattern. Yang and Gradinaru are working together on a method that would use only light waves to noninvasively activate light-sensitive molecules and precisely guide the firing of nerves. Biological tissues are opaque due to the scattering of light waves, and that scattering makes it impossible to finely focus a laser beam deep into brain tissue. The researchers hope to use an optical "time-reversal" trick previously developed by Yang to counteract the scattering, allowing light beams to be targeted to specific locations within the brain. "The technology to be developed in this project has the potential for wide-ranging applications, including noninvasive deep brain stimulation and precise incisionless laser surgery," he says.

"Integrative Functional Mapping of Sensory-Motor Pathways"

Michael H. Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering

As in other animals, locomotion in the fruit fly is a complicated process involving the interplay of sensory systems and motor circuits in the brain. Dickinson and his colleagues hope to decipher just how the brain uses sensory information to guide movements by developing a system to record the activity of large numbers of individual neurons from across the brains of fruit flies, as the flies fly in flight simulator or walk on a treadmill and are simultaneously exposed to various sights and sounds. Understanding sensory–motor integration, he says, should lead to a better understanding of human disorders, including Parkinson's disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury, and aid in the design and optimization of robotic prosthetic limbs and prosthetic devices that restore sight and other senses.

"Establishing a Comprehensive and Standardized Cell Type Characterization Platform"

David J. Anderson, Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (co-PI)

In collaboration with Hongkui Zeng and colleagues at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Anderson will help to develop a detailed, publicly available database characterizing the genetic, physiological, and morphological features of the various cell types in the brain that are involved in circuits controlling sensations and emotions. Understanding the cellular building blocks of brain circuits, the researchers say, is crucial for figuring out how those circuits can malfunction in disease. In particular, Anderson's lab will focus on the cells of the brain's hypothalamus and amygdala—structures that are vital to emotions and behavior, and involved in human psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. "This project will serve as a model for hub-and-spoke collaborations between academic laboratories and the Allen Institute, permitting access to their valuable resources and technologies while advancing the field more broadly," Anderson says.

"Vertically integrated approach to visual neuroscience: microcircuits to behavior"

Markus Meister, Lawrence A. Hanson, Jr. Professor of Biology (co-PI)

This project, led by Hyunjune Sebastian Seung of Princeton University, will use genetic, electrophysiological, and imaging tools to identify and map the neural connections of the retina, the light-sensing tissue in the eye, and determine their roles in visual perception and behavior. "Here we are shooting for a vertically integrated understanding of a neural system," Meister says. "The retina offers such a fantastic degree of experimental access that one can hope to bridge all scales of organization, from molecules to cells to microcircuits to behavior. We hope that success here can eventually serve as a blueprint for understanding other parts of the brain." Knowing the neural mechanisms for vision can also influence technological applications, such as new algorithms for computer vision, or the development of retinal prostheses for the treatment of blindness.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014
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Thirty Meter Telescope Groundbreaking and Blessing

Sunday, October 5, 2014
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Okularfest

Sunday, October 5, 2014
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Tuesday, October 7, 2014
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Gerry Neugebauer

1932-2014

Gerry Neugebauer, Caltech's Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Physics, Emeritus, and one of the founders of the field of infrared astronomy, passed away on Friday, September 26. He was 82.

Neugebauer earned an AB in physics from Cornell University in 1954 and a PhD in physics from Caltech in 1960. He then served two years in the United States Army, stationed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, before returning to Caltech in 1962 as an assistant professor of physics. He was named an associate professor in 1965, professor in 1970, Howard Hughes Professor in 1985, and Millikan Professor in 1996. He retired in 1998.

He served as the director of the Palomar Observatory from 1980 to 1994 and as the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1988 to 1993.

In addition to his leadership of the Two-Micron Sky Survey—the first infrared survey of the sky—Neugebauer led the science team for the first orbiting infrared observatory, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which conducted the first far-infrared sky survey and detected hundreds of thousands of objects. He and his colleagues also obtained the first infrared view of the galactic center, and he was the codiscoverer of the Becklin-Neugebauer Object, a massive but compact and intensely bright newly forming star in the Orion Nebula, previously undetected at other wavelengths of light.

Neugebauer also played a key role in the design and construction of the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His numerous prizes included the Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1986), the Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1998), the Space Science Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (1985), and lifetime achievement awards from the American Astronomical Society (the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1996) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Medal, 2010). He was named California Scientist of the Year in 1986.

A full obituary will follow at a later date.

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Thomas A. Tombrello

1936-2014

Thomas A. Tombrello, Caltech's Robert H. Goddard Professor of Physics, passed away on Tuesday, September 23. He was 78.

Tombrello was an expert in the application of theoretical and experimental physics to problems in materials science, surface physics, and planetary science. His research studies included understanding the damage processes caused by megavolt ions in solids, characterizing the sputtering of materials by low-energy ions as well as growing and studying novel light-emitting materials.

A native of Texas, he received his bachelor of arts degree in physics in 1958, his master's degree in physics in 1960, and his doctoral degree in physics in 1961, all from Rice University. He was a research fellow at Caltech from 1961–1963, then an assistant professor at Yale University from 1963–1964 before returning to Caltech, again as a research fellow. He was named assistant professor of physics in 1965; associate professor in 1967; professor in 1971; William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics in 1997; and Robert H. Goddard Professor of Physics in 2012.

He served as the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1998 to 2008.

Tombrello was a fellow of the American Physical Society and the recipient of an honorary doctor of philosophy from Uppsala University. At Caltech, he was noted for his commitment to student education, receiving awards for teaching excellence from the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT) for 1982–1983 and 1986–1987, and, in 1994, the inaugural Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, given annually to a teacher who exhibits "unusual ability, creativity, and innovation in teaching."

A full obituary will be posted at a later date.

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