In 2001 the Astronomy Department established a new optical, infrared and radio instrumentation lab with a charter to train future instrument builders and to develop cutting edge instrumentation for current and future telescopes. Generous support for the lab has come from a gift from the Celerity Foundation of Frank and Wynette Levinson, and from the University of Virginia. While fulfilling this charter the lab has enhanced the capabilities of our local Fan Mountain Observatory, enabled the University of Virginia to join the Astrophysical Research Corporation which operates the telescopes of Apache Point Observatory, supported the Department's participation in the Large Binocular Telescope Project, and launched Virginia's participation in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey project, ultimately leading to the Department's leadership of the SDSS-III Apache Point Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE). Key instruments developed include FanCam, CorMASS, TripleSpec, LMIRcam, and the APOGEE spectrograph.
A summary of the instrumentation related papers produced by the lab can be found here.
February 2013 -- The Habitable-Zone Planet Finder spectrograph scale model thermal testbench has demonstrated milli-Kelvin stability. The HPF project, led by Penn State, aims to develop a velocity stable spectrograph for the Hobby Eberly Telescope capable of detecting the influence of habitable-zone Earth-mass planets on cooler, lightweight stars by operating at near-infrared wavelengths. Key to this stability is precisely maintaining the temperature of the entire spectrograph assembly in a vaccum cryostat cooled by liquid nitrogen. Fred Hearty and Matt Nelson lead this effort at UVa.
December 2012 -- FanCam begins its 9th year of operation. The Fan Mountain Infrared Camera, designed and constructed by graduate students Chan Park and Srikrishna Kanneganti has continued in regular operation at the Fan Mountain 31-inch telescope since its installation in 2004. Funded by NSF Major Research Instrumentation the camera has seen a variety of uses including characterizing dusty supernova, detailing young stellar object variability, exploring the structure of small self gravitating molecular clouds, probing the surface porosity of Neptune's moon Triton, characterizing the atmosphere of Pluto via stellar occultation, and contributing to the hunt for room temperature brown dwarfs by aiding candidate selection from the NASA WISE all sky survey.
May 2011 -- LMIRcam sees first light at the Large Binocular Telescope. The L and M-band infrared camera (LMIRcam) operates behind the University of Arizona's Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer beam combiner. Led by graduate student Jarron Leisenring, LMIRcam provides LBT with mid-infrared imaging capability exploiting, ultimately the full 22.8-meter width end-to-end of the pair of LBT mirrors to deliver 30 milliarcsecond resolution. With the extremely capable AO secondaries at LBT LMIRcam/LBTI achieves better contrast and inner working angle than any other system.
August 2012 --APOGEE Spectrograph completes first year of operation for SDSS-III. The APOGEE Spectrograph has been in regular operation at the Sloan 2.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory since its installation in commissioning in May 2011. Each APOGEE exposure produces a high resolution infrared spectrum fed by 300 fibers. Typically eight different plug plates are exposed per night yielding over 2000 stellar spectra. After a year of operation APOGEE has collected more than 100,000 spectra - nearly 100 times more than that available prior to APOGEE.
September 2011 -- TripleSpec 4(!) underway. NOAO is supporting the development of a fourth copy of the TripleSpec spectrograph (originally developed jointly by Cornell, Virginia, and Caltech for Palomar, Apache Point Observatory, and Keck) for the 4-meter Blanco telescope at CTIO in Chile. Research Scientist John Wilson is leading UVa's contribution to this development effort while Charles Lam and our machine shop cuts metal to support the project.
May 2011 --APOGEE Spectrograph delivered to and commissioned at Apache Point Observatory. The APOGEE spectrograph left the Instrumentation Laboratory after two years of construction. After a smooth trip to Apache Point Observatory on an air-ride truck it was installed in its private room adjacent to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope. Thanks to the SDSS plug plate and observatory infrastructure and to tremendous support from the on-site (and off-site) staff a screefull of infrared spectra of hundreds of stars appeared within minutes of going on sky with the instrument.
November 2009 -- CorMASS retires, sort of.... After an eventful life providing low resolution spectroscopic capability simultaneously from 0.7-2.5um at the Palomar 60", Vatican Observatory 1.8-meter, Apache Point 3.5-meter, and Magellan 6.5-meter telescopes CorMASS has returned to the laboratory at UVa where it is currently serving as a testbed for characterization of extended-wavelength InGaAs material. The latest generation of this new detector material has been demonstrated under rigorous conditions obtaining spectra as a new focal plane for CorMASS.
March 2008 --TripleSpec delivered to and operational at Apache Point Observatory. UVa's version of TripleSpec emerged from the labortory and was installed at Apache Point Observatory operating flawlessly at first light.
June 2007 -- The NSF ATI program has funded the development of the LBT Fizeau mid-infrared imager, LMIRcam.
Spring 2007 -- InGaAs detector array testing continues through a collaboration with Goodrich Corp./Sensors Unlimited and funded by an NSF grant. After successful production of low dark current extended-wavelength detector material, fabrication of an "astronomical" prototype array has succeeded. CorMASS will soon provide the testbed for this device.
September 2006 -- Graduate student Ori Fox (right) has received a NASA GSRP fellowship and will work at Goddard Space Flight Center this semester testing detectors for the NIRSpec instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope.
February 2007 -- Design and definition work has begun on the APOGEE project. The laboratory will have responsibility for designing and fabricating the multi-fiber H-band (1.6um) high-resolution (R=20000) spectrograph that will be used to probe the chemical evolution history of the Milky Way at the SDSS 2.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory. APOGEE is one of four projects being developed for the "After-Sloan II" suite of projects that will occupy the 2.5-meter through approximately 2013.
Faculty, scientists and staff with instrumentation interests include:
- Research Scientists
- Machinist, Charles Lam
Graduate students who received Ph.D.'s working on instrumentation :
Our lab is located in the west wing ground floor portion of the Astronomy Building. Previously unfinished space at the foundation level, we now have four experimentation rooms and two common area for instrument development and research. Some pictures of the completed space are below.