Get to Know Gemini! Atsuko Nitta

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.

Name:  Atsuko Nitta

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Gemini North Head of Science Operations at Gemini North. I am also a “Scientist”.

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

Our job in science operations is to make sure we deliver the scientific data as the users requested so that they can make progress on the cutting edge research – which will help us better understand our Universe.  My role is to make sure the Gemini North Science Operation team are doing the right thing to make that happen and make sure the team has the resources to do their jobs well.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

12 years

What drew you to this job?

It is exciting to be at the forefront of science – to contribute new knowledge to human kind.  Observatory is where large number of people with various different background/skills come together for purpose of expanding our knowledge of the universe. I enjoy working with people with diverse background and I enjoy working  in a team to get exciting things get done/accomplished.

What is the best part of your job?

Being one of the first to learn about new discoveries. Seeing the team find solutions to difficult problems.  Because our team consists of people with different strengths, together, there is hardly any weakness. I think this is the strength of having intelligent diverse team and I am proud to be a part of it.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

Tokyo, Japan.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

To enjoy what you do both technically and socially i.e. if you don’t like working with people, then observatory is not a good place to be.

Why is astronomy important?

It is the field where we try to answer the fundamental question of our and our universe’s existence. Along the way, we also develop technologies that come handy.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

Seismological studies on a star to find out physics under extreme condition truly happens the way we think it does. Just like the geologists use earth quake to find out what the inside of the earth is like, I did seismological analysis on stars to find out what they look like inside.

What are your current research interests?

The relationship between mass and magnetic field of white dwarf stars. On the origin of the He atmosphere white dwarf stars.

What is your favorite movie?

Nauticaa of the valley of the wind

What is the latest book you have read?

I am currently reading “Principles”.

What is one hobby of yours?

Yoga

Favorite beverage?

Hot tea

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

Get to Know Gemini! John Blakeslee

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.

Name:  John Blakeslee

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Chief Scientist, based at Gemini South

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

I help with the long-term scientific planning for the Observatory, evaluate proposals for Director’s Discretionary time, write the Science Highlights for Gemini Focus magazine, act as science editor for Gemini web publications, prepare science reports for the Observatory governance committees, manage the research budget, and generally try to support science-related endeavors of the Gemini staff.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

9 months

What drew you to this job?

The opportunity to work with a dedicated staff at one of the world’s leading astronomical observatories.

What is the best part of your job?

Talking to members of the science staff (especially the young ones) about their research, proposals, career plans, and things along those lines.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

Southeastern Pennsylvania

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

When an email doesn’t require an answer.

Why is astronomy important?

It’s the study of the universe, and we wouldn’t be here without the universe.  Plus, it provides some perspective for our species.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

I developed a method to study the rich globular star cluster populations in the centers of galaxy clusters without directly detecting most of them. I found that the number of globulars scaled with the dark matter halo mass, a result that has pretty much held up and has been extended to more typical galaxies.

What are your current research interests?

The structure of massive galaxies, late stages of stellar evolution, precision distances and cosmology, making Gemini even more efficient at transient follow-up in the era of time-domain astronomy.

What is your favorite movie?

Kamome Shokudo

What is the latest book you have read?

The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy

What is one hobby of yours?

Running

Favorite beverage?

Agua con gas

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

Get to Know Gemini! Jared Eckersley

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.

Name:  Jared Eckersley

What is your current position and at which telescope?

My current title is Web Application Developer and I am physically located at Gemini North in Hilo Hawai’i

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

I am the subject matter expert for web technologies at Gemini Observatory. My day to day activities include writing new applications as the need arises, supporting existing web applications (inclusive of in house developed and third party applications), and providing support for the web stack infrastructure. A large part of my day is spent in front of a code editor. Being a web developer means that you have to know a lot of technologies. I spend most of my time developing in PHP, Python, SQL, JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

12+ years

What drew you to this job?

I was originally drawn to working for one of the observatories after I took a tour through Subaru telescope many years ago. I was amazed by the cutting edge technology and knew I wanted to be a part of it.

What is the best part of your job?

Working with a team of people that are actively adding to the knowledge of humanity.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

I am originally from Greeley Colorado.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Communication. A lot of what I do involves listening to the needs and desires of people and figuring out how to make it a reality.

Why is astronomy important?

Are we alone in the Universe? Are there other habitable planets?

What is your favorite movie?

Star Wars! I remember standing in line at the Cooper Twin theatre in Greeley Colorado to see the movie when I was very young.

What is the latest book you have read?

I read “Before we go to bed” to my seven year old daughter last night – does that count? If not, the last grown up book I have read is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

1) Fat Freddys Drop – Based on a true story
2) Bob Marley – Legend
3) Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

What is one hobby of yours?

I really enjoy playing soccer. I play in a Sunday league called the Makule League. Makule is a Hawaiian word that roughly translates as old man.

Favorite beverage?

I really enjoy a good bourbon. My go to bourbon is Basil Hayden.

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

Get to Know Gemini! Christy Cunningham

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.

Name:  Christy Cunningham

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am a Science Operations Specialist (SOS) at Gemini North.

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

1. Operating the telescope at night which entails slewing the telescope, setting up on guide stars, and fixing any problems that occur with the telescope.
2. Observing at night which includes determining what programs in the Queue are suitable to run in the current conditions, checking real-time data, and logging events.
3. Daytime data checks of the previous nights data and daytime calibrations to prepare the telescope for the night.
4. Project time, for me this includes helping with the installation of the new Toptica laser system.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I have been at Gemini for over a year.

What drew you to this job?

Originally I left the operator position at SMA to go to get my masters at UO. I missed the night owl hours, the amazing hiking Hawaii has to offer, and my friends in the astronomy community so I decided to join Gemini.

What is the best part of your job?

My favorite part is the variety of work I get to perform week to week ranging from night to day, from base to summit, and operations to engineering.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Communication. We have 10 different SOS members on the the team and it’s vital to know what is happening with the telescope and instruments between shifts and during the night between operations, science, and engineering staff.

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy provides answers for the age old questions of who we are, why we are here, and what else is out there. It also enhances the development of new technology within other fields of science.

What is your favorite movie?

My favorite movie is 500 days of summer.

What is the latest book you have read?

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

I’m a rocker so the best of Albums for Blink-182, Slipknot, and Avenged Sevenfold.

What is one hobby of yours?

I’ve been fishing since I was a little girl and there’s nothing better than being on the boat or fly fishing for salmon!

Favorite beverage?

Sugar free redbull for the long nights running the telescope!

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

Get to Know Gemini! Alysha Shugart

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.

Name:  Alysha Shugart

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am a Science Operations Specialist at Gemini South telescope.

In four lines or less, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

I spend my time at Gemini switching between night and day shifts. I operate the observing queue at nights, work with classical and remote astronomers, and try to get the best data possible for the PIs. During the days I do data quality analysis, instrument checks, and write scripts and modify software code for the observatory’s infrastructure. I also volunteer as a diversity advocate for the AURA centers in Chile, working to improve the workplace culture and create an environment where someone from any background can find a place.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I have been here for three years in September.

What is the best part of your job?

One of the coolest things about this job is living in Chile. I always wanted to move outside of the U.S., and Chile has so many outdoor adventures. Traveling around South America in my free time has been incredible these past three years.

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

 I was born in D.C., but I grew up and went to undergrad in Austin, Texas.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Problem solving.

Why is astronomy important?

To me, astronomy is the study of the history of everything. It’s the closest I can get to understanding existence (which is not close at all), and the grand scales of astronomy absolutely fascinate and astound me. It’s also very humbling.

What is your favorite movie?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

What is the latest book you have read?

“Travels with Charley” – John Steinbeck

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

“Soon it will be cold enough” – Emancipator, “Greatest Hits” – John Denver, “Napalm and Silly Putty” – George Carlin.

What is one hobby of yours?

Traveling with surfers

Favorite beverage?

Beer

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!