Get to Know Gemini! Andrea Blank

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

Name:  Andrea Blank

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Senior Project Coordinator, Gemini South

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

I have several things that I do: I provide Project Coordinator support for large Instrumentation Projects, support staff at Gemini South with project portfolio, project methodology, Project Management Knowledge Base and resource management related questions. I am also a Project Manager for smaller Operations or PMO projects.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

Just over 3 years

What drew you to this job?

The opportunity to use my skill set in a different field of work (my background is in the hospitality and events industry) and working in a different country with an international community.

What is the best part of your job?

The people I work with and the view from the telescope when my work takes me up Cerro Pachón

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

I’m German but grew up in Surrey, England

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

Good organization skills and knowing how to deal with and communicate with people

Why is astronomy important?

It is humbling. It makes us aware of our place within the universe and that we should consider ourselves fortunate to call earth our home.

What is your favorite movie?

Billy Elliot

What is the latest book you have read?

Becoming, by Michele Obama

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

‘Travel the World with Putumayo’ by Putumayo, ‘Lifted’ by the Lighthouse Family and one of my compilation CDs from the early 2000s

What is one hobby of yours?

Sewing

Favorite beverage?

Sparkling water with a slice of lemon

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! Jesse Ball

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

Name:  Jesse Ball

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I’m the Science Operations Specialist group manager at Gemini North.

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

The SOS team is primarily responsible for day and night operations. Day operations involves both assessing the quality of the previous night’s data collected, and coordinating daytime telescope work, including instrument calibrations and checks, software and hardware testing. Night operations involves observing queue and classical/ visiting science programs and operating and troubleshooting the telescope, laser guide star, and instruments. We also get involved in various projects throughout the observatory based on our interests and skill sets. My job entails all of these core duties along with team management, administration, and leadership.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I’ve been with Gemini since April of 2007 (about 11 1/2 years).

What drew you to this job?

I loved Astrophysics and Cosmology as and undergrad — the deep insights as to how we actually come to be and what it is that drives physical processes that make up the universe we live in. But I was not into doing research. I also loved being a part of the action and working at the telescope, tinkering with spectrographs and cameras, and the software that controlled them. My advisor, Dr. Kim Venn, pointed me towards operations jobs as a potential career path in astronomy that didn’t necessarily require research, and I’ve been pursuing this type of work ever since.

What is the best part of your job?

I love to work with and interact with people from all sorts of different backgrounds and perspectives, as I feel I gain a lot of insight by looking at the world through different lenses. I equally love to be a part of the front line of science by collecting the data used to help us understand our universe, along with the pressure and excitement of real-time troubleshooting and problem-solving.

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

I grew up in Duluth, MN, on the shores of Lake Superior, and later attended undergrad school at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN on the Mississippi River. Before coming to Hawai’i to work for Gemini, I spent about three or four years in Albuquerque, NM working for a high energy astrophysics observatory called the STACEE project.

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

I am a firm believer that in any profession, including astronomy, the best skills to have are the ability to listen with an open mind. With this, you can learn and develop good understanding for any technical or non-technical skills that are required for any job in any field.

Why is astronomy important?

It is through astronomy that we gain unbiased insight as to how the physical world around us works. The Universe is a giant natural laboratory of light that we can and should use to answer fundamental questions about pretty much everything.

What is your favorite movie?

This is by far the most difficult question on the interview… if I have to pick one I’d say The Princess Bride. Think about it, it has aspects of every genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama, Adventure, Horror… you name it.

What is the latest book you have read?

Right now I’m (slowly) reading Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock, but I will be the first to admit that I don’t get to read nearly as often as I should…

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

This one is incredibly easy:
1) Mothership Connection (Parliament /Funkadelic)
2) Off the Wall (Michael Jackson)
3) The Hits/ The B-Sides (Prince… ok, I know that’s kinda cheating but there are too many good Prince songs to just bring one of his albums)

What is one hobby of yours?

When I’m not working or being a beach bum, I like to brew beer.

Favorite beverage?

See above 😉

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! Lindsay Magill

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

Image credit: Jen Miller

Name:  Lindsay Magill

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Science Operations Specialist, Gemini South

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

I am involved in telescope operations. I have one or two night shifts a month when I act as the telescope operator or the staff observer. The rest of the time when I’m on day shift I spend checking data we’ve taken, making sure the instruments are prepped for the night crew, as well as working on longer term projects like upgrading software, maintaining documentation, and up until recently serving on the Time Allocation Committee.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

Almost 6 years.

What drew you to this job?

While I was doing my PhD, I worked as a Student Support Astronomer for a year at the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma. As I was doing that I realised that I much preferred being part of telescope operations and observing more than I enjoyed writing papers, so this job seemed like an ideal fit.

What is the best part of your job?

Observing on a clear night, especially when we get to go up to the mountain to observe.

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

I was born in the US, and lived there during my early childhood before moving back to Northern Ireland when I was 11, which is where my parents are originally from.

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

How to get through an entire night without falling asleep!

Why is astronomy important?

I’m not really interested in astronomy because I think it’s important. I don’t think it is particularly, at least not the way medical research is. But it’s fascinating, and it’s beautiful, and occasionally you find out something that turns out to be important to other people, often by accident. But it isn’t *why* I’m interested in astronomy, I just think it’s really cool.

What is your favorite movie?

The Martian

What is the latest book you have read?

The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman.

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

Flood, by They Might be Giants; 40 Licks, by the Rolling Stones; Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on her Magical Ukulele

What is one hobby of yours?

I’m teaching myself to play electric guitar.

Favorite beverage?

A good strong Assam 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! Erik Dennihy

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

Name:  Erik Dennihy

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am Science Fellow at Gemini South.

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

I support daily operations in a variety of roles including carrying out observations during the night, planning the nighttime observations during the day, and assisting users in setting up their observing programs throughout the day.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

Just over six months.

What drew you to this job?

The flexibility. This position allows me to work with the observatory from every viewpoint imaginable, including the user, as 50 percent of my time is allocated for personal research.

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

I was born in New York but raised in Georgia. My family from New York claims I have a strong southern accent while my friends from Georgia love to point out my northern accent. I’m convinced they’re both wrong.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

For my thesis I collected new observations of the crushed of pieces of planets that get left behind after their host star dies. In order to collect the data, I spent a few years upgrading one the instruments at the SOAR telescope, adding a second camera with new capabilities. With this camera, we discovered new systems and observed them changing on timescales never before seen!

What is the latest book you have read?

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, but only because I’ve read it several times. It’s my go-to travel book.

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

Hospice by The Antlers, How Strange, Innocence by Explosions In The Sky, and Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse.

Favorite beverage?

Tropicalia IPA from Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens Georgia

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! Jason Chu

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

Photo copyright Jason K. Chu.

Name:  Jason Chu

What is your current position and at which telescope?

I am a Gemini Science Fellow at Gemini North Observatory.

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

I am a part of both the GMOS-N and GRACES instrument support teams.  I have several responsibilities including checking and helping PIs design their Phase 2 observations, support ongoing projects to maintain and improve the performance of both instruments, and also to observe the nighttime queue programs.  The other half of my time I spend on conducting my own research on the brightest infrared galaxies in the universe.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

About 10 months.

What drew you to this job?

Being a part of a team in running a world class observatory, while also conducting my own research.

What is the best part of your job?

See above :).

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

I’m originally from Orange County, California (between Los Angeles and San Diego).

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

Communicating clearly.  This is important for both disseminating new research findings, as well as helping PIs as a contact scientist or working with others to run the observatory.

Why is astronomy important?

Astronomy is the study of everything that isn’t on Earth, which covers a lot of things, but most importantly it is the study of how we and everything we know of came into existence.

In three lines, explain your PhD thesis.

My dissertation focuses on understanding the nature of luminous infrared galaxies and their role in the overall picture of galaxy evolution, both in the local universe ( closer than 450 Mpc) as well as far away when the universe was only 3 billion years ago.

What are your current research interests?

My current research interest is to understand the spectral energy distributions of local luminous infrared galaxies, using data from Herschel, Spitzer, WISE, and IRAS.  Using these data we can construct the first-ever view of the infrared spectral energy distribution.  I am also interested in the nature of luminous infrared galaxies at high redshift, where they are many more times common than in the local universe.  I am currently using Keck MOSFIRE data to analyze the rest-frame optical spectra of luminous infrared galaxies at z~2.3.

What is your favorite movie?

Lots.  The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Gladiator, the Bourne trilogy

What is the latest book you have read?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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

The Complete Mozart Piano Concertos, Complete Chopin Piano Works, God is an Astronaut (by self-titled)

What is one hobby of yours?

Photography (landscapes, astro-landscape, portraiture/weddings).

Favorite beverage?

Chai tea latte.

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