(Past) President’s Report (June 18, 2014)

Hello everyone,

I have just came back to Victoria after a week in beautiful Quebec, where this year’s CASCA AGM has taken place. Several factors contributed to make this a memorable meeting. First of all, the many exciting talks, including those of this year’s CASCA awards recipients: Harvey Richer (Beals), Peter Martin (Executive), Matt Dobbs (Dunlap), Andy Pon (Plaskett) and last but most certainly not least, Howard Trottier (Qilak), whose energy and enthusiasm left us all wanted to do more and better in engaging children of all ages in what is arguably the most fascinating of all sciences. Then, on Tuesday morning, the announcement that Sidney van den Bergh, a true giant and pivotal figure in Canadian astronomy, has been co-awarded the 2014 Gruber Cosmology Prize for his contributions to the field of near field cosmology: congratulations, Sidney, you have our deepest thanks and appreciation. Finally, the special TMT reception, organized by the Pasadena TMT Project Office, that took place on Monday evening.

The CASCA attendees surrounding the TMT mirror assembly on June 11, 2014 in Quebec.

The CASCA attendees surrounding the TMT mirror assembly on June 11, 2014 in Quebec.

During the reception, Greg Falhman, Ernie Seaquist and Laurent Drissen unveiled a polished mirror assembly, one of the 492 segments that will ultimately comprise TMT’s 30-meter primary mirror. When the curtain lifted and the translucent golden hexagonal mirror was revealed, there was a collective gasp from the audience. But after the initial excitement, I am sure the question on everybody’s mind was: after all this years, and all these efforts, how can we possibly not have yet secured a place in what will surely be one of the most groundbreaking and revolutionary projects ever undertaken?

TMT represents far more than just a telescope. It is a project that we co-founded, almost 15 years ago, partnering with our colleagues in the United States. It is a project we built from the ground up, working with Canadian engineers and industry to tackle a disarming array of seemingly insurmountable technical obstacles. Through hard work and ingenuity, we have transformed TMT from an exciting concept to a marvel of precision engineering. It is a project Canadian scientists and engineers (in academia, industry and government) have brought to such a high level of maturity that major international communities — China, India and Japan — have been enticed to join forces with us in what will undoubtedly be a remarkable journey of discovery and exploration.

And yet, today, Canada is at risk of being reduced to a spectator role as a new generation of scientific discoveries unfolds. In May 2014 TMT transitioned from the design/preconstruction to the construction phase and a new partnership, the TMT International Observatory (TIO), was formed by Caltech, UC, China and Japan, all of whom have committed funds towards construction. India is expected to commit by fall. A ground-breaking ceremony will take place on Maunakea on October 7, 2014. To join the TIO as a full member, Canada must secure construction funds — $300M distributed over nine years — in the coming year. Of those $300 million, about half are needed to construct the unique calotte enclosure designed by Dynamic Structures Ltd. The other half includes ~$75M for the construction of NFIRAOS, TMT’s AO system, mostly done at NRC, and an equal amount as a cash contribution to the TIO. Those $300M will buy us close to 19% of the observing time at the telescope.

For the past many months, ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy have been carrying out an extensive campaign in support of TMT. Activities include regular written updates and in-person meetings with the Minister of Industry, James Moore, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Ed Holder, as well as other Government officials. A nation wide campaign aimed at securing the support of University presidents is well under way. ACURA holds regular meeting with NRC officials. These activities are aimed to support the submission of a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC) requesting construction funds. A pre-budget submission is being prepared by the Coalition, with the help of our Temple Scott consultant, with a deadline of August 6. The final MC is due in the fall — this is a confidential document prepared by NRC on request by Industry Canada. An alternative (or perhaps complementary) avenue of funding that has recently emerged as a viable possibility is Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) — a $1.5B program (over 10 years) announced in the 2014 Federal Budget « to help Canadian post-secondary institutions excel globally in research areas ». A CFREF request will of course need to be agreed upon by Universities Presidents.

In all this, there is an important role for CASCA to play. Now more than ever, it is imperative for the community to speak with a single voice and express unequivocal and unwavering support for the project: in the words of a man who knew how to get stuff done, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. This is a call to action: write to Minister Holder, visit your MP office, schedule a meeting with your University VPR and/or President. Do it now. Take a copy of the TMT Brochure and Digest with you, and tell them that TMT is an investment in the future not just for the Canadian astronomical community, but also for Canada’s international scientific reputation: a hard-won reputation of which Canadians are justly proud.


I could not conclude this message without mentioning some other news. After five years of feasibility studies, a project office has now officially been established for ngCFHT, now renamed Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE). The goal is to generate a Construction Proposal over the next three years. Things are moving forward on the space astronomy front as well: a Request for Information (RFI) has been issued by the CSA to industry and academia to explore possible contributions to NASA’s WFIRST mission. And of course, as we work towards securing new projects, we must say goodby to old ones. After more than 10 years in what was originally planned as a 1-year mission, the CSA will withdraw support to MOST on September 9, 2014. At the end of September, NRC will withdraw funding from the venerable James Clark Maxwell Telescope. Plans to keep Canadian involvement in JCMT for at least two additional years — through a combination on in-kind contributions and University funds, are under way and the outlook is promising.

Anyway, speaking of things that must come to an end, this will be my last report as President. So allow me to take this opportunity to thank the CASCA Board for their dedication and commitment, welcome our new Board members, Bob Abraham and Sarah Gallagher, and wish all the best to our new president, Chris Wilson. And finally, a huge THANK YOU to you all, for your support and your confidence in me during the past two years. I feel truly fortunate and proud to be part of this community.

Ciao,
Laura

Rapport du Président (March 15, 2014)

Hello everyone,

this is a short report to keep you apprised of activities related to the Mid Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan.

It has been almost five years since the LRP was published, and some notable steps towards realizing the LRP goals have been taken. For instance, new instrumentation for CFHT is in the works: after a slight delay, Spirou has been given the go ahead and provided ~$2M in financial support, while new filters (including an improved u-band and narrow-band CaH&K, [OIII] and Halpha filters) are being procured for MegaCam. Work towards ngCFHT continues. JWST is moving ahead as planned, and all Canadian hardware has been delivered to NASA. Since 2010, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has been a formal partner is Astro-H, for which Canada is building the metrology system. On the SKA side, Canada is participating, through NRC, in several pre-construction activities that are intended to be part of the capital construction phase, including signal processing, dishes, and receiver systems. CHIME has been fully funded and is already under construction.

On other fronts, things are not moving quite as fast, or not at all. Funding for CCAT is not yet secured. On the HPC side, ComputeCanada has undergone a significant reorganization. A new President and CEO was appointed on March 10, and last November, ComputeCanada announced the creation of the Advisory Council on Research, which includes two astronomers (Rob Thacker and James Wadsley), and through which we hope the voice of our community will be heard. This leads us to the two elephants in the room: TMT and participation in a dark energy mission, the top two ranked ground- and space-based initiatives in the LRP. As we all know, there was no mention of TMT in the 2014 Federal budget. What nobody knows yet is how this will affect our continuing partnership in the project; the hope is that some of the dust will settle after the TMT Board meeting to be held next month. As for a dark energy mission, efforts are being diverted from Euclid to WFIRST and we now have a Canadian representative on the WFIRST-AFTA Science Definition Team (Mike Hudson). In addition, CSA has awarded a significant technology contract in support of the proposed CASTOR mission, which aims to carry out short-wavelength imaging to complement the IR imaging of Euclid and WFIRST.

More details can be found in the reports of the CASCA committees, on CASCA’s « Projects and Initiatives » pages, as well as on Cassiopeia.

Four years into the process, it is time for a comprehensive review of the progress towards achieving the LRP goals, so we can identify any areas of deficiencies or where progress has been slow and advise on a course of action to ensure, as much as possible, that the LPR plan is brought to completion. The scope of the Mid Term Review is therefore to identify strategic changes in funding models, governance, or operational schemes that would increase the effectiveness in implementing the LRP plan and/or maximize the return on the investments already made; to evaluate the loss of scientific and/or technical knowledge, and recommend ways of mitigating the impact if any LRP goals are no longer considered viable; and to identify and evaluate — in the context of the original LRP plan — new projects that have emerged since the LRP was published.

This task will be carried out by a MTR panel, in consultation with the community. The MTR panel is chaired by Dr. Rob Thacker, of Saint Mary’s University. The panel members were chosen by the CASCA Board, in consultation with Rob, to ensure expertise in all areas — technical and scientific — covered by the LRP:

  • Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo)
  • David Crampton (NRC-Herzberg)
  • Matt Dobbs (McGill University)
  • Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College)
  • Michael Strauss (Princeton University)
  • Marten van Kerkwijk (University of Toronto)
  • Rob Thacker (Saint Mary’s University, Chair)
  • Kim Venn (University of Victoria)
  • Christine Wilson (McMaster University)

I will share a small but significant detail with you all. When I sent the invitation to join the panel to Michael, David, Matt, Kristine, Michael, Marten, Rob, Kim and Chris, I was fully prepared to have to engage in some arm twisting. There was no need: without exception, they all were eager to serve, in spite of the fact that the task at hand is not trivial, that the stakes are particularly high, and the time commitment is significant (I made no secret of any of this!). Their willingness to be part of the process is a strong testament to their dedication and commitment to the community, and I feel very fortunate and privileged to be able to count on such an outstanding team for such an important task.

As for a timeline, the MTR activities will start at the CASCA AGM in June 2014, and culminate with the release of the MTR report in the fall of 2015. Here are the main milestones:

  1. On June 12, immediately following the AGM, the MTR panel will hold a full day meeting, to which the entire membership is invited. A preliminary schedule for the session can be found on the CASCA webpages. During the meeting, the panel and the community will hear presentations from the chairs of the LRPIC, JCSA, GAC and CDC as well as from the leads of all projects prioritized in the LRP. There will also be a call for contributed talks on projects that might have emerged since the LRP or that should be discussed by the panel. Ample blocks of time will be dedicated to all-hands discussion. If you wish to submit an abstract for a contributed talk, please fill in the form: the panel will get back to you after all abstracts have been received.
  2. In July-August 2014, white papers will be solicited from all leads of the projects prioritized in the LRP and a few selected new initiatives (if any), with a deadline of December 2014. The list of white papers being solicited will be posted, and the papers themselves will of course also be posted once received by the panel. Note that even if there will be no open call for white papers, if you feel that one should be submitted on an issue not already covered, please contact the MTR panel chair and state your case.
  3. In January/February 2015, three townhall meetings will be held in the Toronto/Vancouver/Montreal areas, following the same format as the townhall meetings held during the 2010 LRP. All townhall meetings will be webcasted.
  4. Preliminary conclusions of the MTR panel will be discussed at the 2015 CASCA meeting in Hamilton, Ontario. A final report will be issued in late fall of 2015. The report will not be as extensive as the original LRP, and will not include unwarranted revisions or expansions that are inconsistent with the original plan. It might, however, recommend revised strategies aimed at ensuring that the plan is completed, and include new initiatives when these are aligned with and enhance the original plan.

Throughout the entire process, community consultations will take place through a dedicated website. I strongly urge you to participate in the process — the LRP and MTR are perhaps the two single most important initiatives for the health of the Canadian Astronomical community, and your opinions must be heard.

I will send more news as they become available and I hope to see many of you at CASCA 2014!

Cheers,
Laura