Gemini’s "Fast Turnaround" Observing Mode is LIVE!

by xzhang

Reviewers for the Fast Turnaround program must declare that they are able to provide an unbiased review of each proposal, before being given access to the proposal itself.

As of January 2nd, 2015, Gemini’s Fast Turnaround (FT) program is open for business. Following the first proposal deadline on January 31st, the Gemini community is now able to submit proposals every month for the duration of this open-ended trial.

The intent of the FT scheme - which is initially being run as a pilot at Gemini North only - is to greatly shorten the time between having an idea and acquiring the supporting data. Proposals will be reviewed in the 14 days following each deadline, and principal investigators (PIs) will be notified of the outcome by the 21st of the month. A small support team at Gemini will work with successful PIs to quickly prepare their observations, which will then be available for execution on three dedicated nights each month for the following three months.

The proposal review process differs from anything that Gemini (or, as far as we are aware, any astronomical observatory) has done before. To meet the 14-day review requirement, the scientific merit of the proposals will be judged by the PIs (or designated co-investigators) of other proposals submitted during the same round. After a set of manual checks performed by the support team shortly after the proposal deadline, reviewers are notified of their proposal assignments. They must agree to ethical participation in the assessment process; that is, they must consent to keep the proposals confidential and use their contents only for the purpose of the review. Upon doing so, they are shown the titles, abstract, and investigator lists of the proposals that have been selected for them. At this stage, reviewers are asked to declare whether or not they are able to provide an unbiased review of each proposal (Figure 1). Only then are they given access to the proposals themselves, and to the form on which they provide their assessments.

The assessors must supply a grade for each proposal, a brief written review, and an indication of their level of expertise in the proposal’s field. On the 14th of the month, the review forms are closed (and if any reviewer has not completed their assessments by this date, their own proposal is automatically excluded from the rest of the process!). The software generates a ranked list that is passed to the FT support team, which then performs technical assessments on the highest-rated proposals and constructs the set of the highest-ranked, technically-feasible proposals that will fit in the available time. This is probably the most difficult part of the process from the staff point of view, because it involves finding a balance between accepting proposals that have a realistic chance of being observed (not accepting several programs all requiring exceptional image quality, for example), while remaining as true to the scientific ranking as possible.

Much more information about the FT scheme is available on the program’s web pages. The FT program is rather experimental, and designing the system has been a very interesting exercise. The monthly cycle will allow us to make adjustments as we see how the scheme works in practice, and we certainly expect that adjustments will be necessary. Feedback from users and potential users of the system will also be invaluable (and encouraged) as the pilot project proceeds. If you have something to say, feel free to get in touch at fast.turnaround at gemini.edu.