Viewing posts from December, 2011
Last week I visited the South Africa Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town which is home to the IAU's Office for Astronomy Development (OAD). This office has recently been established to deal with issues of science education and awareness in the developing world and how to get people from all nations involved in this effort. Using astronomy as a hook to inspire and excite people about science in general, no matter what their background or circumstances. This is something which is very close to the education and outreach mission statement of LCOGT, so we were interested to find out more.
Following the updates to our website last month one area that still needed improving was our website search. For a while we've been relying on the built-in search that comes with our main content management software. That's started to prove very limited as we build more and more tools that sit outside of it. With the new website live, there was a chance to improve that situation. We now make use of a Google Search Appliance which gives better results and can search more of our growing website. At the moment there are some duplicates in the results but that should reduce over the next week or two. Try it out by using the search box on the right-hand side of our main menu.
This week’s interview was with Rachel Haynes. The interview actually took place in late November, and since then Rachel has accepted employment with another local company and left LCOGT. Rachel worked here for over 5 years and we will miss her!
Jessica Barton: What is your job title?
Rachel Haynes: I am an Optical Engineer.
JB: So do most people think you're an eye doctor when you tell them that?
RH: I actually get that question a lot! Some optical engineers do become eye doctors, and specialize in optics that help people see better, but there are lots of other types of optical engineers too. Anything that involves the usage of light probably involved an optical engineer at some point. The camera in your cell phone, a DVD player, a telescope, and a copy machine are just a few examples of things an optical engineer could work on.
JB: What does your work at LCOGT involve?
RH: I am responsible for pretty much all of the optical design work that goes on here. That means I have to figure out what shape the mirrors and/or lenses have to be in whatever instrument I'm working on. My latest project was designing a spectrograph, which had three mirrors, one lens, a prism and a diffraction grating. In addition to doing the optical design, I also have to tolerance the system. The process of tolerancing is basically figuring out how "not perfect" any of the optics can be and have the entire instrument still perform within spec. Because the wavelength of light is so small, even the smallest deformations on an optical surface can be a really big deal. For example, the primary mirror for our 1.0 meter telescope is only allowed to have errors of about 32 nanometers. That's 100x's smaller than the width of a human hair!
JB: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself - your education, interests, past work experiences.
RH: I have a Bachelors in Physics from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and a Masters in Optical Sciences from the University of Arizona.
JB: What led you to the career/job you are doing now?
RH: A lot of hard work and a little bit of chance. I studied physics in college because I loved it, but I didn't know exactly what career path I wanted to follow. I had a slight preference for optics, so I got an internship here at LCOGT that allowed me to get my feet wet in the world of optics. I quickly fell in love with it, and that's when I went back to school to get my Masters in Optical Sciences, all while still working at LCOGT.
JB: What is a typical day at work like?
RH: I usually spend most of my time using a computer program called Zemax, an optical design program that lets me draw and analyze the performance of optical systems. Pretty much all of the instrumentation and telescopes that we are building at LCOGT get their start as a drawing in Zemax.
JB: What advice would you offer people wanting to go into the type of work you do?
RH: Being good at math and science in general is very important in optics. There are a few universities that offer a Bachelors degree in optics, but if you are willing to stay in school a couple extra years, I would highly recommend getting a BS in Physics, and then a Masters in Optics. I have found that the broad knowledge base you get with an undergraduate physics degree to be incredibly valuable, even though my focus now is optics.
JB: Thanks Rachel!