Institute sponsors astronomy conference

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

A major conference that brings New Mexico’s extensive astronomical resources together with a national and international community of scientists will take place later this month.


The conference, “The Great Surveys Workshop,” sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS), has a broad agenda for coordinating efforts toward the next two decades of cosmic surveys.


IAS’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Center, led by astrophysicist Salman Habib, will host the event.


Building on the success of past surveys, most recently the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-II, based at Apache Point Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico, the conference aims to share ideas about the next generation of wide-scale exploration of the universe.


These include the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III; the Square Kilometer Array, a very large, $2-billion radio telescope planned for Australia or South Africa Antarctica over the next decade and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a wide-field “survey” reflecting telescope planned for Chile by 2015.


The conference in Santa Fe, Nov. 20-22, will be one of the most visible manifestations of the IAS, which recently completed its second full year in existence and issued an annual report.


“The LANL Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) invested $2M in FY ’08 to build statewide programs in key research areas: Information Science and Technology, Radiochemistry, Astrophysics and Cosmology and Energy and Environment,” the institute reported.


“The IAS participated in the development of $75M in proposals and supported eight conferences, six workshops, one seminar series, six collaborative activities, and eleven educational progams. Some 1,200 students, faculty, and staff from the partner institutions participated in IAS programs.”


As the report notes, IAS lost its founding director, Robert Duncan, who was also the chief operating officer of the New Mexico Consortium. Duncan left in August to become vice-chancellor for research at the University of Missouri.


NMC is a partnership of the three New Mexico research universities – the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University. The consortium was formed to facilitate collaborations among the universities and between the consortium and industry. The consortium’s collaboration with the IAS is its first major effort.


With Duncan’s departure, Katherine Chartrand became the COO of the New Mexico Consortium and now manages IAS with a leadership committee composed of representatives from LANL and the three New Mexico research universities. Steve Buelow represents LANL on the leadership committee and is a main contact in the energy and environment thrust area.


In an interview Thursday, Chartrand and Buelow said two other thrust areas were also active. One is in emerging health with a focus on radiochemistry and particularly the application of LANL capabilities in radiochemistry to medicine; and another is in information science and technology.


Chartrand said that, although each of the areas has made progress during the year, the Astrophysics and Cosmology Center “is the strongest,” linking eight major facilities and projects sited in New Mexico, including the Milagro Gamma-Ray Observatory and Thinking Telescopes/Raptor at LANL.


A number of proposals are in the works awaiting decisions by outside funders and the institute calls for new proposals from its network of partners each quarter. The emphasis for next year will be on strategic planning and building an identity for the institute, she said.