The 12 Days of Solstice – Day 8: Get to Know Gemini!

Welcome to Gemini’s 12 Days of Solstice! This is a joyous countdown to the longest, or shortest (depending on which hemisphere you live in) day of the year! Visit our blog each day from December 11 – December 22 for Gemini-themed crafts, cartoons, playlists, videos and much, much more.

Gemini has a diverse staff with different backgrounds, skill sets,  jobs,and contributions that all help make the Observatory run. We couldn’t help explore the wonders of the Universe without our talented and hardworking staff .Each month  we present a feature  observatory staff  member as part of the Get to Know Gemini series, which highlights the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science. Today we present a solstice edition of the Get to Know Gemini series.

Get To Know Gemini! Jeff Donahue

Name: Jeff Donahue

What is your current position and at which telescope?

My current position is Senior Laser Technician for Gemini North.

The current laser system could be considered to be a prototype laser that required a substantial amount of support in order to deliver a sustainable operating system for the LGS (Laser Guide Star) System. We are now in the process of delivering a much improved system built by Toptica. Similar lasers are now in use at Keck II, ESO-Paranal, and soon to be operational at Gemini South.

At Gemini North, I am leading the team as Project Manager for the laser upgrade to Toptica. At our site we look forward to a doubling of average power and  significantly improved photon return. The Toptica lasers have proven to be robust and simplify laser operations in comparison to our current system. Our team is making improvements that should allow us more frequent use of LGS. My other responsibilities are Laser Safety and export control support.

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

My main responsibility is support of the laser system used for LGS- AO (Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics). The laser system is the basis for the 589nm guide star used for Adaptive Optics. The goal has been to provide 10+ watt beam of optical power at 589nm in order to create an artificial star approximately 90 miles into the atmosphere. The laser beam excites sodium atoms at that  point which glow and form the artificial star. Altair is used at Gemini North along with NIRI and NIFS during LGS nights to help compensate for atmospheric blurring and distortion.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

I have had the good fortune to work here in paradise since 2010. Prior to Gemini I had never visited any of the Hawaiian islands.

I was invited to interview at Gemini for a laser tech position when we had a larger, specialized and technically outstanding laser/optics group. Our group is much smaller now but we are still responsible for delivering laser operations for LGS. I have also enjoyed helping support the laser team at Gemini South.

What is the best part of your job?

The people of course….but I must say that I have also been given much opportunity here and appreciate that Gemini has given me much responsibility and the freedom to learn, grow and lead.

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

My roots are in the Northwest having grown up outside of Seattle followed by 30 plus years in Oregon. In my previous life,I was working at Hewlett Packard in Corvallis,Oregon where I was responsible for the lasers of 25 micro-machining tools. We used laser ablation on silicon wafers as part of the process for building ink-jet pens. I had my own lab and frequently interacted with the factory to optimize laser quality, health and operation.

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

Juggling, each day is new, with a new set of problems and expectations. As I plan and lead, I must always remain flexible, solve problems and keep my focus on the ultimate goal… which is for now, delivering a new laser.

Why is astronomy important?

We are entering a new era, soon there will be many new and larger telescopes. It will be exciting to see what new things can be learned. This is an exciting time to be working in astronomy.

What is your favorite movie?

My Favorite movie has always been “The Quiet Man”. Debbie,my wife, and I even visited many of the sites where it was filmed in Ireland.

What is the latest book you have read?

I have to say I am a late bloomer for the Game of Thrones but enjoy both the books and the series.

What is one hobby of yours?

 Travel and watching my grandkids grow

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

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