Press and News

March 2017

Welcome to the March newsletter

Late 2016 and early 2017 saw several major steps forward for the Giant Magellan Telescope project.

In January, the GMTO Board appointed Dr. Robert N. Shelton as President of the organization. Dr. Shelton brings a wealth of experience to the project and will provide overall leadership at GMTO. Dr. Shelton will work in close partnership with the GMTO Board and will engage with leadership at the founder institutions and prospective new founders and supporters.

Also in January, the team at the Richard F. Caris mirror laboratory at the University of Arizona completed generation of the front surface of the second primary mirror segment and made the first surface map of this mirror – polishing will begin in the next few weeks.

In December of 2016, we opened staff and contractor residence at the GMT site in Chile. Staff stayed overnight for the first time, and since then we have hosted several groups of visitors, as well as the regular contingent of 50 or more construction workers and staff.

In February, we released the Request for Proposals for the final design and fabrication of the Telescope Mount to more than thirty companies in ten countries. This is a major milestone for the project and sets us on the path to completing the observatory.

We look forward to sharing this newsletter with you. Remember 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

Dr. Robert N. Shelton appointed GMTO President

Dr. Robert N. Shelton

Dr. Robert N. Shelton.

In January, GMTO announced the appointment of Dr. Robert N. Shelton to the position of President. Dr. Shelton joins GMTO from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement where he was president for three years. Dr. Shelton has been the executive director of the Arizona Sports Foundation, was the 19th president of the University of Arizona, and provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among many other notable leadership and academic positions. He also brings experience as a distinguished experimental condensed-matter physicist focusing on collective electron effects in novel materials, with more than 240 refereed publications, 50 invited talks, and 100 contributed papers to his name. Dr. Shelton has been involved with the governance of astronomical telescopes for many years, having served on the Governing Boards of Keck, the SOAR, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope, LSST, and AURA.

Read more about Dr. Shelton on our website.

Request for Proposals for Telescope Mount released

Detail of the telescope mount

Detail of the telescope mount.

The GMT Project reached a major milestone on February 23, 2017, with the release of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the final design and construction of the telescope’s main structure (‘the telescope mount’). More than thirty companies from ten countries received the RFP notice in response to their expressions of interest.

The RFP package, released to qualified bidders, consists of approximately 400 pages of core documents supplemented by several hundred pages of reference materials: the mount design book, the CAD solid model, finite element models, interface control documents, interface drawings, systems engineering documents, international standard and codes, subsystem design studies, seismic acceleration time histories, operations plans, software standards, and other technical information. 

The release of the RFP was the next stage in the process that began in mid-2016. In September 2016 GMTO held an Industry Briefing attended by nineteen companies from nine countries. With the release of the RFP, qualified bidders have until May 19, 2017, to return their proposal, after which an evaluation period will begin.

More information about the RFP process is available on the GMTO website.

Site construction update

Drone view of the GMT summit at Las Campanas, taken in February 2017. Credit: Ricardo Alcayaga. Click the image to view the video.

Since November, the team in Chile has been busy getting the site’s living and sleeping facilities ready for occupation while conducting additional site testing on the summit.

Dormitories first night

Support site 2

Support Site 2 – completed dormitories and kitchen/dining facilities.

GMTO has spent the last few months working on the interior of the dormitories on the GMT site at Las Campanas, outfitting the rooms with furniture and linen, and commissioning the kitchen and dining facilities. These facilities are located at Support Site 2 – the lower of the two off-summit support sites. On December 5, 2017, GMTO staff officially spent their first night there.

Since that first night, the residence has hosted a range of local and international guests, including a fifty-person group from one of GMTO’s Founder institutions! The group found that the sheltered nature of Support Site 1 provided an excellent location for star-gazing in the evening.

Inside dormitory

A bedroom in the GMT site dormitory

Inside dormitory

Inside the dormitories

Site testing/core sampling

During February, GMTO completed geotechnical testing to retrieve core samples at several new locations GMT summit mesa. These samples, bored to depths of up to 60 meters, will be used to characterize the rock conditions and inform the final design of the observatory foundations and telescope pier. Similar geotechnical tests were completed several years ago, but for different locations on the summit.

Core drilling

Collecting core samples at the summit.

Core sample

A piece of a core sample from the GMT summit. Image source: US Embassy Santiago, Chile.

Core sample

Drone image of the summit. The two white circles represent the diameter of the enclosure (outer circle – 56 meters) and the pier (inner circle – 22 meters).

Guardrails installation

GMTO recently completed the installation of guardrails on the summit access road and on the summit itself. An important safety feature, the guardrails are compliant with the Chilean Road and Highway Design and Safety Manual (“Manual de Carreteras”).


Guardrails being installed on the summit road.

LIDAR decommissioning

The summit LIDAR campaign came to its conclusion in November 2016. The LIDAR allowed GMTO to map the wind field over the entire summit for 13 months. Its main purpose was to inform decisions about the enclosure location on the mesa and the enclosure soffit design. To our knowledge, the GMT is the first telescope project to use this kind of laser wind measurement technology, more commonly found in airports and the wind farm business.

We now have full meteorological stations at four heights on the East weather tower (12, 24, 36, and 48 m above grade).

LIDAR decommissioning

José Soto and Francisco Meza decommissioning the LIDAR system.

Profile: George Angeli, Project Systems Engineer

headshot - George Angeli

Dr. George Angeli.

We are very pleased to welcome Dr. George Angeli to the GMTO family. Dr. Angeli is GMTO’s Project Systems Engineer. George is responsible for the technical integrity of the project, including overseeing the flow down of the scientific requirements into technical requirements to ensure the science goals can be achieved by the telescope. For this newsletter, George answered a few questions about his life and career.

How did you first get into engineering/astronomy?

I always loved to disassemble and build things. Even as a child, I just wanted to know how they worked. Later I also wanted to fix them, not always with great success. Still remember the electric shock when one night I tried to repair the lighting switch above my bed. I was about 7 and sure I knew everything about electricity, because I followed my electrician grandfather everywhere. I survived, and I am still learning…

I went to the best engineering school in Hungary, and was accepted into an accelerated program. I earned my M.S. in EE in four years, and then I spent the next 20 years of my life creating new, unique instruments: lasers, special electronics, interferometers, almost everything at the intersection of optics, electronics, and controls. Eventually I founded my own small company. Besides our commercial business, we won several government research and development grants similar to NSF and SBIR grants.

One of those grants brought me in the States to finish and test our photoacoustic spectrophotometer at the University of Arizona. I went back to school, earned my Ph.D. in EE and Optical Science, and eventually got involved with those big optical machines so prevalent in Tucson: astronomical telescopes. My first astronomy related job was in the Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics at Steward Observatory, again at the intersection of optics and controls. For close to 20 years now I have been intrigued by telescopes.

You’ve worked with many different telescope projects – what draws you to these kinds of projects?

There are at least two aspects of large telescope projects that are vital to me. Telescopes pose intriguing technical challenges, and they are bound to contribute to our understanding of the world. The telescope projects I worked on provided open professional settings where I could contribute and learn from my more experienced colleagues.

At MMT, I worked on the first ever adaptive secondary mirror, which was also a good exercise to understand astronomical adaptive optics. GSMT was the precursor to TMT that introduced me to system-level project thinking, which was further developed during my years in the TMT project. We started the Integrated Modeling efforts at GSMT that came to fruition at TMT. At LSST I learned the intricacies of federally funded construction projects. I also gained a thorough understanding of borosilicate mirrors. All of these experiences help me in addressing the challenges we encounter at GMT.

Dr. Angeli once worked for now GMTO Board member James Wyant at WYKO Corporation – he describes his experience:

Jim created an exceptional business with high quality people and cutting edge products. I was managing the construction and installation of specialized interferometers. We built an in-line test equipment for factory floor flatness inspection of computer disks. The major challenge was reliability in the highly vibrating environment, as any failure of making a valid measurement would have stopped the production line.

My experience at WYKO felt very much like my former job in my own company: running a small technical team of engineers and technicians to build something unique.

You can read Dr. Wyant’s profile in our November 2016 newsletter.

What has been your most rewarding career accomplishment to date?

Creating a small business with my friends and successfully running it was a unique experience. Working in a start-up environment is dazzling and I am still proud of our achievements.

Then the time came to think bigger. While working at the TMT project, I established an influential, successful systems engineering model for ground-based astronomy. We implemented simulation tools and capabilities placing us on the forefront of the ground based telescope building community.

In many aspects, being part of a large project was very different from my small business experience. However, critically, it was the same: both the success and satisfaction in my work were tied to the people I worked with.

Why did you want to get involved with the GMT?

GMT is one of the most exciting ventures of our time in ground-based astronomy: GMT is going to be a fully equipped exploration machine. It is pushing the edge of technical possibility in practically every area. Contributing in a significant way to such a project is an exceptionally rewarding experience.

What has been your impression of the GMT project in your first two months here?

The first thing that struck me was that project has amazing people with diverse background and strong desire to move forward and succeed. Diversity brings various different viewpoints and solutions, which in turn makes our technical approach more robust.

You are the GMT Project Systems Engineer: why is systems engineering important to big projects such as the GMT?

Systems engineering is the way to handle technical complexity. Large, hard to grasp projects need to be broken down into manageable components, defined by the project’s requirements. The aim is to establish an architectural design that meets the customer’s needs, but that can be decomposed into the components that are managed throughout the design, construction, and integration.

Without proper systems engineering, i.e. technically driven architecture, decomposition, integration, and technical management, the delivered product may not fit the envisioned purpose. As Yogi Berra is quoted as saying: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

What does astronomy mean to you?

Astronomy provides further understanding of the world and consequently it has the promise of contributing in a significant way to the solutions of humankind’s most critical problems. Besides being fascinating on its own, it has momentous consequences for physics, as well as for philosophy. Building an instrument that will have profound impact on the future is exciting, rewarding, but also a bit humbling.

Community Engagement – SXSW and AAS

South by Southwest


The GMTO panel at South by Southwest. Image courtesy: Margaret Roth.

Earlier this month GMTO held a panel discussion at the annual South by Southwest conference and film festival in Austin, TX. Entitled “Are We Alone? A Discussion on Space Exploration”, the panel consisted of Taft Armandroff, GMTO Board Vice-Chair and Director of the McDonald Observatory; Jayne Birkby, NASA Sagan Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Patrick McCarthy, GMTO Director; and Katie Morzinski, Assistant Astronomer at the University of Arizona. The panelists discussed the properties of exoplanet systems and the prospects for finding evidence for life through observations of exoplanet atmospheres. The audience was very engaged and asked questions on topics ranging from the type of life astronomers could find (carbon based!) to the latest technology for deformable mirrors. You can see the complete presentation on our YouTube channel.

229th American Astronomical Society Meeting

GMTO Open House at AAS

Dr. Patrick McCarthy presents at the GMTO Open House at the 229th AAS.

At the January 2017 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, TX, GMTO held a community open house. The gathering featured an introductory talk by Director Patrick McCarthy and Board members Buell Jannuzi and Charles Alcock, followed by discussion. Among the approximately 150 people in attendance were NASA and NSF leaders, directors of major observatories, many early career astronomers and students, and members of the GMT Science Advisory Committee and GMT instrument teams. We were pleased to be able to share our excitement about the project and vision for the future with the broader astronomical community.

Announcement of 5th Annual Community Science Meeting

Community Science Meeting poster

The Fifth Annual GMT Community Science Meeting, sponsored by the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, will be held from September 17-20, 2017 at the Tarrytown House Estate & Conference Center in New York.

The theme of the meeting is the “Chemical evolution of the universe: From Cosmic Dawn to Cosmic Noon.” This field of astronomy addresses the formation of the chemical elements through early star formation and the enrichment of interstellar and intergalactic gas through stellar winds, super novae and galactic outflows. The evolution of the chemical composition of gas and stars by these and other processes offers astronomers insight into the formation of the first galaxies, the formation and growth of supermassive black holes, and ultimately the evolution of galaxies like our Milky Way.

This meeting will bring together observers, theorists, and computational astrophysicists in a workshop-style environment to discuss forefront problems in the field, with a particular eye towards the progress that can be made in the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) era.
Registration will open shortly. Check for details.