Press and News

July 2019


We have just returned from a successful trip to Chile to view the total solar eclipse with a group of friends of GMT. The weather was perfect and we were in awe of totality. Read our report below.

In project news, we have recently taken delivery of our second primary mirror segment from the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab. The surface accuracy of this mirror is even better than the first mirror, and we moved it into temporary storage earlier this month.

The project spent the first half of this year preparing for and undertaking a large review of its practices, budget, and schedule. The review committee was very pleased with the work the team produced. The result of the review was positive, with the committee stating that “the present team can deliver the GMT.” The driving forces behind the success of the review were Project Manager James Fanson, and Project Business Manager Nune Boyadjian Wheeler and her team – you can read Nune’s profile in this newsletter.

In fundraising success, the University of Texas at Austin received a $10 million gift from David Booth to support the construction of the GMT. We are grateful to Mr. Booth for his generosity and to GMTO’s Vice-Chair from the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Taft Armandroff, for his leadership.

Dr. Walter Massey, Chair of GMTO’s Board of Directors received the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award in May. The award honors science and technology leaders who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service in science, technology, and public policy.

Finally, in Chile, a high-profile event was held with the EcoScience Foundation outside the Presidential Palace in Santiago where the Minister for Science launched the Mobile Astronomy Lab (LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy). This unique laboratory includes a state-of-the-art inflatable planetarium and a portable telescope, together with an innovative and inclusive educational program based on the best practices in science education.

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

– Dr. Patrick McCarthy

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Total Solar Eclipse over Chile

Diamond Ring

Diamond Ring effect during totality. Image by Paul Gardner.

On July 2, 2019, a total solar eclipse was visible across Chile and Argentina. The narrow band where totality was observed passed less than a mile from the Giant Magellan Telescope site at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert in Chile. GMTO held a special, private event to watch the eclipse at a location not far from the GMT site.

In preparation for the total solar eclipse, GMTO in Chile presented the tactile book “Open your senses to the Eclipses: South America”, donated by NASA, Edinburgh University and the College of Charleston to the blind and visually impaired community in Chile. GMTO was part of the inclusive eclipse event at Santiago’s Planetarium on July 2nd.

For guests traveling with us to the GMT site, their arrival to Las Campanas began with a spectacular sunset. In the evening we visited Carnegie Institution’s telescopes – looking through the eyepiece of the Swope telescope at Jupiter and Saturn. We were astounded by the naked-eye view of the night sky at Las Campanas. Chile is one of the best places on Earth for astronomy. The coastal mountains in the Atacama Desert provide clear and dry air and high altitude away from light-polluting cities.

The next morning, we visited the Magellan telescopes, and at the GMT summit construction site, we admired the large excavations for the telescope’s pier and the enclosure’s foundations. Throughout their stay on the site, our guests held many conversations with our astronomers and engineers.

On the afternoon of July 2nd, we gathered with Carnegie Institution at a site within the path of totality. After lunch, we moved outside to watch the partial phase of the eclipse through our eclipse glasses and specially adapted telescopes. The weather was perfect – clear skies and mild temperatures. When totality arrived, there were gasps of amazement from everyone gathered.

The event was a resounding success, thanks to the efforts of over twenty GMTO staff. Guests left the trip engaged and enthusiastic and eager to return to Chile to view the next eclipse in December 2020.

We have shared some of our best photos from the event on our website gallery – view them here.

Total Solar Eclipse event in Chile

Guests enjoy the partial phase of the eclipse.

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GMT Mirror #2 completed

GMT primary mirror #2 (also known as “segment 2”) has been completed at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona. It was moved from the Mirror Lab to temporary storage by Precision Heavy Haul in the early hours of July 18, 2019.

GMT mirror 2 leaving University of Arizona.

GMT Mirror segment 2 leaves the University of Arizona on its way to temporary storage

Each of the GMT’s seven primary mirrors is 8.4 meters in diameter and takes approximately four years to create. The final stage of work for segment 2 — front surface polishing — took just ten months, significantly faster than for segment 1 due to new polishing and metrology techniques invented at the University of Arizona. With these techniques established, future GMT mirrors should pass through the pipeline faster. Watch a short interview with Dr. Dae Wook Kim of the University of Arizona where he explains these techniques.

Named for benefactors George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell, GMT segment 2 was cast on January 15, 2012. The mirror then followed the typical path of a GMT mirror through cooling, rear surface clean out, rear surface generating and polishing, attaching hardware to the rear surface, and front-surface generation, before starting front surface polishing in May 2017. Other work in the lab stretched the optimal schedule for segment 2.

The final shape of the polished mirror was reviewed and accepted by GMTO in June 2019. Six of the seven primary mirrors are off-axis, and their shape is challenging to polish. The final surface figure of the mirrors are accurate to 25 nanometers, or one-millionth of an inch.

The process of moving a mirror begins a few days in advance with the finished mirror, which is covered with a protective coating, being loaded into a sophisticated transport container manufactured at CAID Industries in Tucson, AZ.

On July 17th, the mirror, inside its transport container, was lifted onto the back of a high precision transporter. At around 4 am on July 18th, the transporter departed the University of Arizona for its hour-long journey to Tucson Airport. Once at this temporary storage location, the mirror was carefully unloaded, a process that took about an hour. Segment 2 is now stored next to mirror segment 1, which is also named for George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell.

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GMT mirror 2 arrival at storage

GMT Mirror segment 2 arrives at its temporary storage location.

GMT mirror 2 next to mirror 1.

GMTO Engineer, Wylie Rosenthal, inspecting in-situ data logging inside the mirror segment 2 transport container. Data on acceleration and temperature of the mirror during the move are shown in the bottom left.

Ultimately the mirrors will be shipped to the port of Houston and then to the GMT site in Chile via the Panama Canal, in a journey that is expected to take about eight weeks.

Current status of each GMT primary mirror:

  • Segment 1 was moved from the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab into temporary storage near Tucson Airport in September 2017. The mirror is named for George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell.
  • Segment 2 was moved into temporary storage next to Segment 1 on July 18, 2019. The mirror is named for George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell.
  • Segment 3 is undergoing fine grinding of its front surface
  • Segment 4 has completed rear surface polishing and load spreaders are being attached
  • Segment 5 was cast on November 4, 2017. The mirror was cleaned out and moved into the integration hall in 2019, awaiting its turn on the grinding machines.
  • Segment 6 – casting expected in 2020
  • Segment 7 – casting expected in 2021

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Project review success

IBR 2 committee

The review committee and GMTO staff. Left to right: Patrick McCarthy, Robert Shelton, Jay Marx, William Burgett, Joe McMullin, Mark Warner, Nune Wheeler, Bob Laskin, Karen Hellman, Sidney Wolff, Roger Brissenden (Committee Chair), Rebecca Bernstein, Daniel Eisenstein, James Fanson, Taft Armandroff.

In the first part of the year, the project underwent a major review of its technical and financial plans and schedule – known as a ‘baseline’ review. All subsystems of the project were subject to an in-depth review of their cost estimates and schedules by subject matter experts, the goal of which was to review the credibility and comprehensiveness of the baseline. The Project Business Office, led by Nune Boyadjian Wheeler, managed the review process internally.

The results of the review were exceptionally positive. Two committees, one chaired by Jay Marx and the other by Roger Brissenden (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard Smithsonian), noted that the GMTO team did an outstanding job in preparing for and presenting the review. They noted the excellent quality of the team, the high level of expertise and the degree of team cohesion. It was the opinion of the review committee that the present team can deliver the GMT.

The Project thanks the review committees for their hard work, and we look forward to implementing the recommendations given.

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Profile: Nune Boyadjian Wheeler, Project Business Manager

Nune Wheeler

Nune Boyadjian Wheeler

Nune Boyadjian Wheeler is GMTO’s Project Business Manager. Nune was the manager of the baseline review process described in the previous article.

Nune has been with GMTO for five years, and her role is to manage the team that develops the project schedule and cost. She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Economics and a master’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior.

After college, Nune went to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as a resource analyst. She advanced in her career, working on visible and challenging projects that allowed her to grow her responsibilities. This work led directly to her role at GMTO.

At GMTO, Nune is responsible for financial and schedule planning, progress and performance measurement, financial analysis, goal setting, and management reporting. She manages the project plans toward completing the construction of the telescope. As a result, she is responsible for developing and implementing the GMTO Earned Value Management (EVM) system processes and procedures and the Cost Estimating and Schedule Planning Guidelines, and developing and maintaining the project-wide budgeting tool. She works closely with the Accounting team, the Contracts and Procurement team, and the management of the Project and Corporate functions.

On a typical day, Nune says, “I attend meetings for making decisions, answer simple and complex questions from my team, the project, and other departments like contracts and accounting. I participate in strategy meetings for upcoming initiatives and assist executive management to make decisions on what to do next.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone thinking about the same career, it is simple: you need grit and interpersonal skills. She recommends studying finance, economics or engineering, but advises that working in a team is a critical skill. “Projects are conceived and completed by people who are able to put their minds together with others and accomplish more than the sum of each person’s capabilities,” she says.

Nune says that her favorite part of the job is seeing the project make technical progress against the milestones it has set. She says, “I enjoy working in a team toward the goal of achieving something amazing for humankind. I love working on big space science projects. I love working on things that help us improve our knowledge of the universe. At GMT we are building a machine that is going to give us more knowledge and I feel like I’m part of something great.”

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$10M Gift to The University of Texas at Austin for GMT Project

David Booth

Left to right: The University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves, David Booth, and Taft Armandroff, Vice-Chair of the GMTO Board. Image: UT Austin.

In May, Austin philanthropist David Booth of Dimensional Fund Advisors committed a $10 million gift to The University of Texas at Austin to help fund the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

During a visit to McDonald Observatory — the centerpiece of UT Austin’s astronomy program — Booth met Taft Armandroff, Ph.D., director of McDonald Observatory and Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of GMTO and became interested in the power of their astronomy program.

“Based on that visit to McDonald Observatory, I saw a rare opportunity to support a very exciting project that not only expands our view of the universe but also pushes the boundaries of scientific discovery,” said Booth.

“David Booth’s generous support will ensure UT students and faculty can use the Giant Magellan Telescope to study some of astronomy’s most pressing questions,” said Armandroff. “The GMT will offer Texas astronomers unique opportunities such as studying the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets to better understand how common Earth-like planets are.”

GMTO thanks Mr. Booth for his generosity and Dr. Armandroff for his leadership.

Read more from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Walter Massey receives Vannevar Bush Award

Dr. Walter Massey

Dr. Walter Massey

In May, the National Science Board (NSB) awarded Dr. Walter E. Massey, Chair of the GMTO Board of Directors, its prestigious Vannevar Bush Award. The award honors individuals who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service in science, technology, and public policy. Massey is being recognized for his truly exceptional lifelong leadership in science and technology.

Dr. Massey has been a consistent voice for scientific advancement throughout his career and was notably involved in the ambitious Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Project. Twenty-five years after he ensured approvals and financial support for the project in his role as Director of the National Science Foundation, LIGO announced the discovery of gravitational waves. Massey has held various other leadership roles in science and academia including President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Director of the Argonne National Laboratory, Vice President for Research and Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, Professor of Physics and Dean of the College at Brown University, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University of California system, and President of Morehouse College.

Read more from the National Science Foundation.

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Mobile Astronomy Lab launched in Chile

This unique laboratory includes a state-of-the-art inflatable planetarium and a portable telescope, together with an innovative and inclusive educational program based on the best practices in science education. The eclipses of 2019 and 2020 in Chile will be the hallmark of this laboratory that will reach the most remote and underserved places in the country.

Minister Andrés Couve cutting the ribbon with the President of EcoScience, Eduardo Ergas. Image credit: EcoScience.

In May, the LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy (Mobile Astronomy Lab) and Inflatable Planetarium were launched by the EcoScience Foundation, GMTO, and the Embassy of the United States in Chile, with a public party in front of the Presidential Palace La Moneda in Santiago, Chile.

The mobile lab was inaugurated by the Minister of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation, Andrés Couve, who highlighted the importance of this project: “The Eclipses Season which starts on July 2, and the fact that we are building the largest ground-based astronomical capacity in Chile, puts us in a privileged position. We must use this opportunity as an impulse for the development of the country. For this, we need scientists and researchers, but we also need to motivate our children.”

After cutting the ribbon, Minister Couve also pointed out that “initiatives such as this mobile astronomy laboratory are useful for science to reach children throughout our territory, to make them more enthusiastic about scientific research, and to have citizens interested in science – not just scientists. In that sense, this public-private collaboration is a great opportunity.”

The Mobile Lab and students from Senderos de Culitrin school (Paine). Image credit: EcoScience.

The total solar eclipses of 2019 and 2020, as well as inclusive astronomy, will be the pillars of the innovative educational program developed by the LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy, which ultimately aims to bring astronomy to the most remote and underserved areas of Chile.

According to the President of the EcoScience Foundation, Eduardo Ergas, the various LabMóvil ConCiencia are providing new opportunities to the children of Chile through science education. “With the ConCiencia Bus and the LabMóvil ConCiencia Magallanes we have already impacted more than forty thousand students from Visviri in the north to Puerto Williams in the extreme south. With the LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy, we hope to go even further.”

For the Representative of the GMT project in Chile, Miguel Roth, the LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy will be an opportunity to implement the best practices in science education. “An example is the inclusive material ‘Universe with All Senses’, which enables access to astronomy knowledge to blind people. The success of this material has been enormous, and we want to add more experiences such as this that can be replicated at the national level.”

The LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy was born from a donation from The Kavli Foundation and GMTO to the EcoScience Foundation for the development of an educational project capable of bringing the best practices in the education of astronomy to all the regions of Chile. This mobile laboratory is the third in the Ecoscience Foundation fleet, which also incorporates the ConCiencia Bus and the LabMóvil ConCiencia Magallanes.

It is expected that in 2019 alone the LabMóvil ConCiencia Astronomy will reach more than 3,000 students from different regions.

Read more from GMTO.

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