Press and News

November 2016

Welcome to the November newsletter

The project office has been working hard over the past few months to prepare for the release of the request for proposals for a critical piece of the Giant Magellan Telescope – the telescope! Read below about our recent Industry Briefing, held to support this process.

At the GMT site at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, pre-construction infrastructure work is nearly complete and we are pleased to share with you the latest bird’s-eye view video of the area.

In this newsletter we’d also like you to meet one of our distinguished Board members: Dr. James Wyant from the University of Arizona. Dr. Wyant has had a long and prestigious career in optical engineering, both in business and academia.

In September we hosted the 4th Annual Community Science Meeting at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds near Monterey Bay, California. We were excited to bring together exoplanet scientists and students from around the world for this three-day conference. See some highlights of the meeting below.

Finally, we are pleased to introduce here the star of the GMTO Chile outreach team: Valentina Rodríguez.

You can always keep up to date with what’s happening at GMTO from our website,, or from our presence on social media.

– Dr. Patrick McCarthy

Telescope Mount Industry Briefing

The procurement of the Telescope Mount is the next step in the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope. As part of the process, GMTO hosted an “Industry Briefing” from September 21-23 for telescope design and fabrication companies having interest in learning more about GMTO’s procurement plans.

The purpose of the Industry Briefing was to expose potential bidders to GMTO’s procurement objectives and approach and to brief them on the technical design of the Observatory and Mount. The GMTO team reviewed the statement of work, the specimen contract and proposal instructions. The meeting also provided an opportunity for networking between the companies in attendance, and for the GMTO team to obtain feedback from industry on GMTO’s technical design and procurement strategy.

Representatives from nineteen companies from nine countries (USA, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Korea, Japan, and Australia) were present at the meeting, representing the majority of the world’s most experienced and capable telescope designers and manufacturers.

All of the objectives of the Industry Briefing were met, and the degree of positive interactions between the companies was impressive. A commonly expressed theme was of the interest to begin this work as soon as possible.

GMTO expects to release the request for proposals before the end of 2016. More information is available on the GMTO website.


GMTO Project Manager James Fanson at the Industry Briefing.


Sara Lee Keller, General Counsel, and Leticia Woodard, Purchasing Manager.

Site Update

Work continues at the GMT site at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Since August several significant stages have been completed.


GMT site in late October: all buildings on support site 2 and the summit have been constructed. Credit: Ricardo Alcayaga. Click the image to view video.

Roads and Grading

Grading of the summit roads and off-summit construction pads has been completed. This is an important step in the site infrastructure work, as it contributes to a safe environment for those working on, and traveling to and from, the summit during the upcoming period of heavy construction.


Two dormitories and a kitchen/recreation building have been constructed at Support Site 2. Work is underway on the buildings’ interior finishing, and temporary utilities are being installed to accommodate early occupiers. A permanent potable water system and the waste water treatment system are currently being installed. The summit construction office has also been completed and is in use.


Finalizing the installation of the 24 unit dormitory building.


Buildings at Support Site 2. Top: 24 unit dormitory; Middle: kitchen/recreation buildings; Bottom: 64 unit dormitory. Credit: Ricardo Alcayaga.


The fiber optics link between the Las Campanas Observatory main site and the GMT site has been installed. Communications equipment has been set up on the summit so that data from the Vaisala weather station, scintillometer and construction webcam can be transmitted directly to the Pasadena office for analysis.


José Soto and Metcom personnel setting up the Vaisala weather stations in the summit office.

This completes the development of the majority of pre-construction infrastructure and site preparation work on the summit. Future work includes finalizing the utilities and installing furniture and equipment in the buildings. The 24-dorm residence will be ready for occupancy in the next few months, and will host international visitors soon after.

We are now prepared for the start of work on the enclosure foundation and the telescope pier at the summit.


Summit Construction Office.

Board Member Profile: Dr. James Wyant

headshot - James Wyant

Dr. James Wyant.

Professor Emeritus and Founding Dean of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, Dr. James Wyant, has been on the GMTO Board of Directors for the past year. He has served on the Board’s Development Committee and contributed valuable insights to the project. Dr. Patrick McCarthy, GMTO Director said, “Dr. Wyant’s impressive background in optics and business has been an asset to GMTO this year. We are privileged to have the opportunity to work with him and look forward to his continued input into shaping the GMT project.”

Dr. Wyant answered some questions for us about his life and career.

Describe your role as Professor Emeritus and Founding Dean of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona – what does it entail on a daily basis?

While I have retired from the University of Arizona, I still have an office at the College of Optical Sciences (OSC) where I can be found most weekdays when I am in Tucson. I serve on a few committees at OSC, as well as a number of boards, including being the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio. All of these commitments take a lot of my time. I also frequently give technical talks at conferences and student groups throughout the world.

What sparked your interest in optics as a career?

Two events sparked my interest in a career in optics:

First, I was an undergraduate physics major at CWRU and, after my junior year in college, I got a summer job working for Libbey-Owens-Ford in Toledo, Ohio. This job involved developing an optical inspection system for large sheets of glass. It was such a fun experience that I began to think about a career in optics.

Then, in the first physics lab of my senior year, I was shown a laser illuminating a hologram. This was the fall of 1964, and it was the first time I had seen either a laser or a hologram. It was a life changing experience. I still remember looking through this cloudy piece of glass (hologram) and seeing a stapler that looked so real. I tried to grab the stapler, but of course it wasn’t there — it was only this fantastic three-dimensional image of the stapler. At that point I became hooked on optics!

What was the key to the success of your first company – WYKO Corporation?

I always attribute the success of WYKO to timing and “dumb” luck.

My first job out of graduate school was to work for Itek Corporation in Lexington, MA for 6 years, 1968-1974. During those years at Itek, I was involved in using interferometry for testing optical systems. We developed what is now called phase-shifting interferometry, which is an excellent fast, low-noise way of inputting interferogram data into computers. The problem at that time was that the items needed to build a phase-shifting system — small computers, large detector arrays, compact solid-state electronics and lots of software — did not exist. We did build one very expensive phase-shifting interferometer for the government, but it was nothing to brag about. I never even tried to publish anything about it — in fact, I tried to forget about it!

Then in the early 1980’s, as a professor at the University of Arizona (UA), I visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory and discovered they were in need of a good way to measure the surface roughness of the diamond turned mirrors they were fabricating. I began thinking about using an interference microscope to measure this roughness. Personal computers and detector arrays were just beginning to be introduced and I figured it was time to, once again, think about phase-shifting interferometry. I enlisted the help of an excellent graduate student, Chris Koliopoulos, to work on the project for his Ph.D. dissertation.

As time went along, we found there were several companies interested in a computerized interference microscope, so Chris and I, along with two others — a postdoc of mine and one of my research assistants — decided to start a company, WYKO. We found that while several companies wanted to buy the computerized interference microscopes for measuring the surface roughness of optical components, there was even more interest in measuring the surface roughness of magnetic storage tape. Later, we found there was additional business measuring the shape of the magnetic recording heads used in hard-disk drives.

This was a time of explosive growth in the number of computers being sold and each computer had at least one hard-disk drive in it — and manufactures of hard-disk drives found they had to measure the shape of every recording head used in the drives — and we had the perfect instrument for measuring these heads. By pure luck, we had just the right product at just the right time. This was a lot of fun!

What has been your most rewarding career accomplishment to date?

I would have to name two milestones in my life. Firstly, founding, growing and then selling WYKO was a fantastic amount of fun. We developed several products that were needed, that worked very well, and for a long time we had little real competition. It was wonderful visiting our customers around the world and seeing how our instruments were helping their businesses. Secondly, being the head of the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona and growing the number of students, faculty, staff and funding to the point where the Center became the College of Optical Sciences, and I became the Dean of the College was also a fantastic amount of fun. These days, I especially enjoy meeting with our alumni.

You have been involved with both SPIE and OSA for many years, including serving as President of both societies: what motivated you to become involved, and what do you enjoy about the time you spend with these societies?

I initially joined both SPIE and OSA to obtain their journals and to attend their meetings. While it is not necessary to be a member to read their journals or attend their meetings, I felt it was important to join and I am really glad I did. As time went along, I became very involved with both societies, first as a committee member and then organizing meetings. Additionally, I had many journal editing roles, including being the Editor-in-Chief of the OSA journal, Applied Optics. I also have the honor of being one of only four people to have been President of both SPIE and OSA. The people I have met as result of my SPIE and OSA activities remain, to this day, a very important part of my life. I look forward to my continuing involvement with both societies.

What might the astronomy community be surprised to know about you?

Astronomy played a role in fostering my passion in optical instruments. When I was an undergraduate physics major at CWRU, I would often go to a small CWRU observatory a few miles from campus to use a 9.5-inch refracting telescope to take photos. This ignited my interest in taking an astronomy course from Professor McCuskey the first semester of my senior year. During the taking of this course, I realized what I really enjoyed about astronomy were the optical instruments used.

How did you come to be on the Board of Directors of GMTO?

I have always been interested in telescopes and when UA president Ann Weaver Hart called me to see if I would be willing to be a Board Member of GMTO, I jumped at the opportunity.

What I find most challenging is determining the best ways I can help the project. I wish more people would understand more about all the great research and potential discoveries the GMT will make possible.

Community Science Meeting


The 4th Annual Community Science Meeting was held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, CA. Students and postdocs are funded by GMTO to attend.

From September 25-28 more than a hundred astronomers gathered at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, CA to participate in the Fourth Annual GMT Community Science Meeting, “Exoplanets in the Era of Extremely Large Telescopes.”
GMTO’s policy of supporting young astronomers to attend these meetings ensured there were many students and postdocs presenting their cutting-edge research.

The conference highlighted how the next generation of Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs), and in particular the GMT and its suite of instruments, are needed to make progress in the field of exoplanet science.

Mike Endl from the University of Texas at Austin’s report was highly anticipated. He told the conference attendees about the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone (where liquid water is expected to exist) of Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to the Sun. The current generation of large telescopes cannot separate the light of Proxima b from the glare of Proxima Centauri. The GMT, however, with its large aperture and powerful adaptive optics system will be able to separate the system, offering our best opportunity to study a rocky exoplanet in detail.


Mike Endl from the University of Texas at Austin presents the Proxima b discovery.

Olivier Guyon from the University of Arizona provided an overview of recent advances in high-contrast imaging, a field of rapidly evolving adaptive optics technologies and proposed the idea of a first-light Extreme Adaptive Optics (ExAO) system for the GMT. Other presentations addressed the challenges of determining the composition of exoplanet atmospheres, how planets form and evolve, and how disks of gas and dust around young stars reveal the existence and characteristics of forming planets by their structure.


Olivier Guyon from the University of Arizona describes a proposed Extreme AO system for the GMT.

For a full list of speakers and their topics, as well the photo gallery, visit the conference website:


The conference dinner was held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Community Outreach in Chile

In August, Valentina Rodríguez joined the GMTO office in Santiago as the Outreach Coordinator for Chile. Valentina is responsible for all GMTO communications with the Chilean public and the astronomical community, as well as educational activities, and coordinating VIP visits to the GMT site at Las Campanas.


Valentina Rodríguez, Outreach Coordinator, at the GMT site in Chile.

Valentina comes to GMTO after twelve years in a similar position with the European Southern Observatory (ESO). She was also accredited at the Washington Foreign Press Center at the White House, Capitol Hill and the Pentagon in Washington, DC between 2000 and 2002, representing several Chilean newspapers, a national TV channel and one of the main radio stations in Chile. Valentina holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Social Media from Universidad Diego Portales (Santiago, Chile) and a Master’s degree in Science Communication from Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona, Spain).

Since starting at GMTO, Valentina has been responsible for producing the Spanish-language version of the August newsletter, she has secured coverage of the GMT on CNN-Chile, and she has organized a network of astronomical educational activities in Latin America, including submitting a grant application to the International Astronomical Union for its implementation. Valentina is also involved in the preparation of a final report of the Chile-US Summit on Education and Public Outreach, an activity supported by all US Observatories in Chile, the US Embassy and CONICYT, the Chilean equivalent of the NSF.

Valentina works in close coordination with Miguel Roth, the GMTO Representative in Chile and the Communications Team in Pasadena. She can be reached at