XWCL among the aliens

MagAO-X and the eXtreme Wavefront Control Lab are affiliated with the Alien Earths project, an interdisciplinary collaboration led by Dániel Apai. I was going to list off the disciplines that they are inter-ing, but they said it best on their website:

Our Alien Earths team includes experts in planet formation, exoplanet detection and characterization, planet formation, planetary atmospheres, astro- and cosmochemistry, meteorite and asteroid sample analysis, planetary interiors and atmospheres, and mathematical biology and ecology.

This week, they are holding their all-hands meeting in Tucson.

We are contributing a whopping five talks to the program, giving us a chance to not only overwhelm them with our direct-imaging jargon, but also keep it up over multiple days.

As a prelude of the coming flood, Logan Pearce gave our science and instrument status update early in the Wednesday program.

“Après moi le déluge” — Logan, probably

She also took the opportunity to advertise the MagAO-X Sirius-Like Systems Search (final logo pending):

After lunch, Sebastiaan Haffert gave an update on direct imaging plans with the upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope and the planned GMagAO-X instrument our group is developing.

Lest you think we gave every talk at this meeting, rest assured that there were other people on the schedule. (Organizer Dr. Kevin Wagner thankfully spaced us out so we wouldn’t overwhelm people.)

However, this is the Extreme Wavefront Control Lab blog, and we don’t claim to present the proceedings of the meeting here. On to the next! Avalon McLeod showed videos with enough of our instrument interfaces to terrify our theorist colleagues.

Black blazers are de rigueur.

Our last talk of today was Eden McEwen speaking about achieving mastery over the concept of TIME.


Dr. Sebastiaan Haffert closed out the session by giving us all permission to go, provided we return for free breakfast tomorrow.

Okay, Sebastiaan, if you really insist.

Song of the Day

“Diamonds on Neptune” by Old 97s

But who’s got time for heavenly things?

AO Summer School 2022: Eye Day

Summer school posts were delayed due to blog server space, but we’re back with recap blogs!

It’s summer camp season. The older you get, the harder it gets to secure a summer full of bunk-bed living, bug spray, buffet lunches, and late night card games. The folks at Santa Cruz gave us a pretty wonderful approximation, chock full of AO knowledge to boot.

The accommodations were a mere minute walk from the conference hall.

All last week we started our days in campus apartments, wandered to breakfast in the nearby dining hall, and then took the short walk to the conference center. All in the idyllic redwood forest of Santa Cruz, of course.

Today it was the vision scientists turn to talk.

Possibly one of the most exciting part of the summer school was the vision science talks. The first two days we took deep dives on AO generically and AO for astronomers. The third day, we got the rundown on resolving the cells of our eyes, sorting by color receptor, and exciting them individually to mimic colors independent of the excitation laser.

An AO system for measuring the distortion of the eye, set up in the lecture hall. Used since the early days of the AO summer school.

We got the opportunity to measure the aberrations in our own eye! In real time Professor Austin Roorda was able to map the distortion in the SH and tell participants the magnitude of each Zernike polynomial. Of special interest were those of us who had glasses, where he was able to get uncannily close to their true prescription (from the focus term). He’s been teaching at the summer school since its inception in the early 2000’s

Austin taking a wavefront measurement of my eye. We were unfortunately not able to see the edge of my contacts.

In the lab section of the day, after lunch, we were lucky enough to get to see the aberrations in our own eyes. There were a few sized pupils we could check against, and we could convolve the distorted PSF with letters to check our vision.

My Eye distortions, decomposed by zernike polynomials (top left), plotted by phase (top middle), turned into a PSF (top right) and convolved with the letter E (bottom middle).

We also got to see a bare-bones AO bench, where we closed the loop and inserted a turbulence screen. They trusted us enough to take out some lenses and have us put it back together again. Even for those of us with experience in labwork, it’s still a treat to get to investigate a system with minimal hazard to research deadlines.

Warren (middle) and Jay (far right) study the AO bench kit.

On the last day, after some exciting HCIPy talks and hands on work, we were treated to a much anticipated event, the Visual Optics Awards! Catagories included the Thirty Meter Telescope award for largest pupil, The Hubble Space Telescope Award for the poorest optics, and a medal ceremony for best RMS WFE after defocus and astigmatism correction.

Top 3 smallest RMS errors in the class, with PSF displayed below. Our own Warren came in 3rd.

Suffice to say, the week was over too quickly. A huge thank you to the organizers at UCSC and CfAO! I learned more than I thought I would, have many foundational papers to start reading up on, and a whole new community of AO enthusiasts to look forward to at future conferences. Hopefully I will be back at some point to help out! For now, I’ll be fondly remembering Santa Cruz with all my sunset beach photos.

Almost full moon at the Memorial lighthouse down on the coast.

Song of the Post: Home by the Sea by Genesis

Bonus: Warren wheeling away on our last day.

The bike rental is in town.
He had to get it all down the hill somehow.

UCSC’s AO Summer School 2022: The Times That We Live In

I think I speak for all three of us MagAO-Xians that went to the AO workshop last week when I say that it was a blast! Between the beautiful campus at UCSC, fun hands on activities, and friendly participants there was always something to focus on (heh). Unfortunately it was probably the diverse group of international attendees that had COVID-19 prowling for victims, and I was one of the ones to get caught in the nets…! Thus I unfortunately had to miss the last few parts of the event, but the parts I did get to participate in was rich in really cool AO things.

Like Warren and Eden I got my eye’s aberrations measured by happily staring into every (very low power) laser they told me to.

I was mesmerized by lectures detailing all the non-astronomical applications of AO — who knew microscopists could benefit so much from AO? I also got a chance to converse with Dr. Phil Hinz who (to my surprise) contributed work towards the MagAO/Clio project. Astronomy is such a small world. I especially enjoyed seeing Prof. Olivier Guyon’s presentations on things going on over at the SCExAO project.

Super hike through the greater UCSC campus area with some UA friends! (ft. Hélène Rousseau from Steward Observatory)
Lunch was made interesting with aggressive squirrels wanting to go halfskies with everyone on the delicious cafeteria food!
One last stroll through the campus to spot more wildlife before making arrangements to stay off campus for the last day.

Onwards on the road to recovery…

Song of the Day

The Police – Don’t Stand So Close To Me

BONUS CONTENT: Santa Cruz Boardwalk

On the first night of the workshop we visited the beach and walked along the boardwalk which had a lot of fun carnival games.

AO Summer School Day 1: Closing the loop on California mysteries

I am generally horrible at finishing things, and there were so many stories to tell about good times in Santa Cruz that I never finished my blog post. I started writing during the first night of the workshop, but didn’t return to tell the stories of renting a bike and spending afternoons enjoying rides in the countryside. A late night guilt trip during the 2023A run from *nameless parties* has made me choose to post what I’d written in August.

While sipping coffee in the shade of towering redwoods this afternoon, Eden ran up behind me and hurriedly asked if “I’d seen Jared’s message on Slack”. When I said I hadn’t, she said “good – Jay and I think that you should be the first one to write a blog post about the workshop. This news set off alarm bells and self-doubt that we’d taken enough photos to justify the lofty precedents of previous posts. The subsequent rush to backlog material might lead to an uneven post, but hopefully presents an accurate picture of California life.

Flying into San Jose airport at nighttime feels like a glimpse into the future: either utopian or dystopian depending on personal preference. Terminal walls are adorned at fifty feet intervals with large screens proclaiming the latest software accomplishment from interminable corporations. These advertisements can be generally ignored by bleary, midnight eyes until passengers are funneled out through automated security doors and greeted by an LED mural twenty feet tall, bright red and devoted to Intel alone. Sleepy wrinkles in passengers faces are filled with the bright light as they shuffle into escalators going to a similarly lit baggage claim. It feels like some combination of Blade Runner and Fahrenheit 451.

My personal history with California has been checkered at best: past work trips to San Diego have imparted a unique claustrophobia of being surrounded by endless suburbs and six lane highways; of traveling for hours and never leaving the city. With that background, I gave the most profound sigh of relief in my Uber when I was greeted in Santa Cruz not by strip malls but instead by a deer, silently walking through the moonlit streets [not pictured – sorry!]. I have since learned that it was part of a healthy resident population on the university campus.

The campus is a beautiful setting for a conference, and the cool breezes from the ocean are a welcome break from Tucson heat. The lectures are widely succeeding at proving a strong background to the wide-ranging field of adaptive optics. I can appreciate the challenge in planning a curriculum for 29 students with wildly different backgrounds and experiences. The first day was a broad introduction to adaptive optics in general – I think that most of the class pitied the grad student who was asked to deliver a briefer on geometrical optics and third order aberrations in one hour. Several talks stuck out on the first day though, especially Phil Hinz’s overview of wave optics and Rebecca Jensen-Clem’s lecture on atmospheric turbulence. Being used to picking up the concepts on the fly, it was very helpful to reestablish the source of useful rules of thumb like r0 and t0 scaling with wavelength. The workshop is unique in bringing people from such a niche field into a room together.

I went to bed after this, and thus ends the written memory of the AO Summer School. Santa Cruz has wonderful bicycle infrastructure, and immediately upon arriving I began making inquiries about how to rent a bike. After being disappointed by several foundering startups attempting to revolutionize the bike-rental industry, I finally found a wonderful beach cruiser that I named “Black Beauty”. The shop owner – who sounded exactly like what you would imagine someone who runs a bike shop two blocks away from the beach would sound like – told me “don’t ride off road, or at least if you do then clean it afterwards because we don’t have a hose here”. I took this liberally, and had a blast over the next few days exploring the steep hills of Santa Cruz after the workshop finished in the afternoons. Here are some fun photos from these rides.

Song of the conference

There are so many songs about California but time spent walking around the Giant Sequoias of the campus kept reminding me of this lesser-known one.

MagAO-X Takes Montréal Day 5: La conférence d’espionnage

It is extremely illegal to smuggle Andean mammals of the high desert into downtown Montréal, but I have always wanted to try poutine, and MagAO-X already got me as far as Tucson anyway.

At the border, I tried to explain I was going to the SPIE conference but I’m not sure Google Translate was working.

Today, Laird and Lauren both gave their talks, which I’m sure were lovely, but I honestly had trouble staying awake after the long flight from Tucson. Here’s a picture of me trying to pay attention to a conversation between Olivier, Jared, and Laird.

It was worth the price of the ticket just to see all three in person, again. See you in November, señores!

Song of the Day

The Canadian Fish and Wildlife Service is hot on my tail, so I must return to Chile… but I don’t regret a thing.

“Non, je ne regrette rien” — Edith Piaf