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!

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