Dr. John Wilson, a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Astronomy, is the recipient of the 2017 Maria and Eric Muhlmann award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This award recognizes recent significant observational results made possible by innovative advances in astronomical instrumentation, software, or observational infrastructure and is one of the few in the astronomical world focused on instrumentation.
The award highlights John Wilson’s leadership in the design and development of the state-of-the-art spectrograph for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) as well as the contributions of the entire APOGEE team. This spectrograph is capable of dispersing the light of 300 stars simultaneously, providing a detailed examination of their elemental constituents. Doing so has enabled one of the first comprehensive experiments to reconstruct the assembly history of our Milky Way galaxy since these elemental ratios are a fingerprint pointing to the individual star’s origins. John led the development of not just one, but two spectrographs – one deployed to Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and one to Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. By covering both the northern and southern hemispheres the two instruments provide access to the entire celestial sphere. The spectrographs employ novel technologies such as 300 fiber optic feeds bringing infrared light into the vacuum-cryogenic instrument, refractive silicon optics larger than previously possible, and the largest volume-phase holographic grating ever produced for an astronomical instrument. Constructing the instrument required the input of roughly one hundred engineers and scientists and a number of private companies, all masterfully coordinated by Wilson to produce these spectrographs within their $5 million budgets and in the time allotted. To date the instruments are responsible for data that has led to the publication of more than 200 scientific papers and the publication rate continues to increase, particularly given the start of operations of the second APOGEE spectrograph at Las Campanas Observatory. The APOGEE spectrograph represents just one (actually two, technically) of Wilson’s instrumentation successes over the nearly 15 years he has worked at UVa, where he has been central to the delivery of a variety of unique infrared cameras and spectrographs all over the world.
You can read more at the ASP announcement of the Award.