Jerry Earl Nelson
Professor, Astronomy & Astrophysics
My main interests are in the design and construction of astronomical instrumentation. In particular, I am currently working on the design of the Thirty Meter Telescope, a joint project of UC, Caltech and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. With an order of magnitude jump in light gathering ability relative to today’s Keck Telescopes, TMT will be capable of studying the formation of the earliest galaxies at extreme distances, as well as planetary systems forming in our own Milky Way galaxy. As Chief Scientist for TMT, I am helping to develop it’s optics, optical support systems, kinematic designs, and the telescope structure.
Giant telescopes are a fascinating engineering-science subject. They must be exquisitely optimized to achieve their tight optical goals, and they must be very economical in order to be affordable by our community. Optimizing the optics and structures for performance and cost is a wonderfully complex subject, involving many aspects of physics and astronomy, from the properties of the atmosphere, to properties of glass, to capabilities of active control systems. The challenges of tackling such a complex system bring great rewards, and offer the opportunity to contribute to one of the greatest intellectual adventures- understanding our universe.
Because of the great potential of Adaptive Optics to deliver diffraction-limited images, with the commensurate great increase in sensitivity, I have been deeply involved with adaptive optics. I was the founding Director of the Center for Adaptive Optics, and have worked to ensure that Keck, and hopefully in the future, TMT have very effective AO systems.
In the past I was the Project Scientist for what is now the Keck Observatory, and am responsible for many parts of the development of the Keck Observatory, including the ideas and implementation of segmented optics, fabrication, and control systems.
BS, California Institute of Technology, physics, 1965
PhD, University of California at Berkeley, physics, 1972
Astronomer, Professor, UCSC 1994-present
Member, National Academy of Sciences, 1996
Founding Director, Center for Adaptive Optics, UC Santa Cruz, 1999-2004