The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

73° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA receives contracts to explore dark matter in space

The UA has received two contracts to develop and build key components for an experiment searching for dark matter in the universe.

The contracts were awarded to the Imaging Technology Laboratory and the Optical Fabrication and Engineering Facility at the College of Optical Sciences. Both groups will focus on developing components vital to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment, a project being conducted at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the fourth largest optical telescope in the world, will scour the skies and take measurements of light from faraway stars to compute a 3-D projection of the universe. With the new components being manufactured at the UA, the telescope will be able to search a larger area in greater detail than ever before.

One of the new components of the telescope is an optical device known as a wide field corrector, which the Optical Fabrication and Engineering Facility at the UA College of Optical Sciences received a $4 million contract to design and manufacture.

“”The current optical device on the telescope is a collection of 96 spherical segments,”” said Martin Valente, Fabrication-Engineering Facility director. “”But the problem with those is they don’t focus very clearly. So what the wide field corrector does is more precisely focus light while also allowing the telescope to cover a greater area of the sky.””

According to Valente, the corrector will be completed in about 13 months and the project will involve UA students.

“”This is exactly the type of hardware we enjoy building and designing because of the opportunity it presents to students,”” Valente said. “”Projects like this enable students to work side-by-side with researchers so they can see what it takes to design, build and commission hardware in a real and applicable way. That practical experience, in turn, is what makes them valuable in the field.””

Valente said he expects around six students to be directly involved in the process.

“”We’re here to produce outstanding students,”” he said.

The UA Imaging Technology Laboratory received the second contract, worth about $2 million. Astronomical Research Cameras, Inc., a California-based company building camera electronics for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, awarded the contract to the Imaging Technology Laboratory, which in turn will produce approximately 200 charge-coupled device detectors to be placed on the telescope.

“”We make some of the most efficient and highly sensitive detectors in the world,”” said Michael Lesser, Imaging Technology Laboratory director. “”We also pride ourselves on producing exactly what our customers want, which is vital in contracts like this, where the product needs to fit exact specifications.””

The charge-coupled device detectors are made of silicon and work by transforming photons (the particles which make up light) into electrons, which produce a voltage that can be read by the telescope and displayed as a digital image. Those digital images can then be studied by astronomers.

“”The big advantage of these kind of detectors is the ability to take images without a lot of interference or noise, intrinsic or otherwise, that could affect the viability of the signal,”” Lesser said.

Lesser also said that students will be involved in development processes such as research and computer support, though the actual manufacturing will be left to the staff of the Imaging Technology Laboratory.

Lesser expressed his confidence that the high-exposure contract would lead to new opportunities in the future.

“”The big thing about projects like this is that it advances our own technology,”” Lesser said. “”When we have new opportunities like these, especially advanced projects, we can develop technology for projects of all kinds. This then makes us more competitive in the future.””

More to Discover
Activate Search