Dr. Rob Thacker to chair the Mid Term Review Panel

The CASCA Board is pleased to announce that Dr. Rob Thacker will chair the panel charged with the Mid Term Review of the 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy.

Dr. Thacker, one of Canada’s preeminent scientists in the field of galaxy evolution and structure formation, is a Full Professor and Canada Research Chair at Saint Mary’s University, where he is presently serving as chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department. His dedication and service to the Canadian astronomical community is extensive. He was a member of the CASCA Board between 2007 and 2010, and has since been invaluable in advising and assisting the Board on issues ranging from the state of financial support for astronomical research to national initiatives related to High Performance Computing. He was one of the original members of CASCA’s Long Range Plan Implementation Committee, and is presently the Chair of Compute Canada’s Advisory Council of Research. Most importantly, Dr. Thacker was one of the seven members of the 2010 Long Range Plan Panel. He is therefore intimately familiar with the LRP process and is in a unique position to undertake the critical task of leading the team in charge of evaluating progress on the LRP five years after its release, and advising on future directions.

On behalf of the CASCA Board and the entire astronomical community, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly express my appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Thacker for taking on this critical role.

Laura Ferrarese
CASCA President

CASCA’s 2014 Executive Award for Outstanding Service Presented to Dr. Peter G. Martin (January 29, 2014)

In alternate years, the CASCA Board has the honour to bestow the Executive Award for Outstanding Service « to an individual who has made sustained contributions in service that have strengthened the Canadian astronomical community and enhanced its impact regionally, nationally and/or internationally. » Dr. Peter G. Martin, of the University of Toronto, is the recipient of the 2014 Executive Award.

A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Dr. Martin moved to the University of Toronto shortly after receiving his PhD in 1972, where he quickly began a series of efforts — continuing to the present day — that bolstered Canada’s reputation as a world leader in astronomical research. In 1984, he co-founded the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Research (CITA), which quickly grew into one of the world’s leading centres for theoretical astrophysics. During the past decade, he worked tirelessly to establish the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, now poised to become a major centre for the development of astronomical instrumentation. The Canadian astronomical community, as a whole, benefits greatly from both CITA and the Dunlap Institute: e.g., through CITA’s National Fellows program, a vital source of postdoctoral funding for Universities across the country, and through the outreach efforts to which both Institutes are firmly committed.

Dr. Martin’s contributions to the national community are equally extensive. He has served on countless national and international committees, including the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), of which he was one of the founding advisors. His ties with CASCA are particularly strong: he served as President of the Society between 2006 and 2008, and two of CASCA’s most prestigious awards, the Martin award and the Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools, are endowed thanks to his initiative.

With over 280 publications in peer reviewed journals, on topics ranging from the interstellar medium to active galactic nuclei, Dr. Martin has received numerous prizes and honours, including CASCA’s Beals Award in 1994. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2007.

For more than four decades, Dr. Martin has been a driving force and steadfast supporter of astronomy in Canada. In bestowing the Executive award on behalf of the entire astronomical community, the CASCA Board recognizes his outstanding contributions to our society and extends to Dr. Martin a small, but heartfelt, token of our gratitude.

Carlyle S. Beals Award Presented to Dr. Harvey Richer (March 18, 2014)

The Carlyle S. Beals Award is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in research — either a specific achievement or a lifetime of research. CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Harvey B. Richer, from the University of British Columbia, as the recipient of the 2014 Carlyle S. Beals Award.

Prof. Richer received his Ph.D. in 1970 from the University of Rochester, where he studied the physical properties of carbon stars under the supervision of Prof. Stuart Sharpless. Soon afterwards, he joined the faculty at the University of British Columbia where he has remained ever since. An internationally recognized expert on stellar populations in the Milky Way, star clusters and external galaxies, Prof. Richer was a pioneer in the study of globular clusters with CCDs, carrying out a number of landmark studies of these important stellar systems beginning with CFHT in the mid 1980s and continuing until the present day with the Hubble Space Telescope. Notable highlights from his more than 140 refereed publications include the discovery of young globular clusters in the outer halo, and a series of papers characterizing the faint but extensive white dwarf populations belonging to the globular clusters M4, NGC 6397 and 47 Tucanae.

In addition to his research on globular clusters and their constituent stars, Prof. Richer has worked on wide range of topics in astrophysics, including the mass function of the Galactic halo, optical counterparts of X-ray sources, and ground-layer adaptive optics systems for ground-based telescopes.

CASCA congratulates Prof. Richer on a distinguished career of scientific achievement and community service.

CASCA/RASC’s Plaskett Medal Presented to Dr. Andrew Pon (March 19, 2014)

The J.S. Plaskett Medal is awarded annually by CASCA and the Royal
Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) to the Ph.D. graduate from a
Canadian university who is judged to have submitted the most outstanding
doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics during the preceding two
calendar years. We are pleased to announce Dr. Andrew Richard Pon as
the 2014 recipient of the J.S. Plaskett Medal.

Dr. Pon completed his doctoral studies at the University of Victoria in
2013 under the supervision of Dr. Douglas Johnstone (UVic, NRC-Herzberg).
His thesis, entitled « Shocks, Superbubbles, and Filaments: Investigations
into Large Scale Gas Motions in Giant Molecular Clouds », covers a wide
range of topics in star formation — including gravitational collapse,
turbulent heating, and Galactic ecology. This work bridges theory and
observations, and crosses traditional boundaries between the detailed
investigation of individual nearby star-forming regions and the much
larger scale studies of galactic-scale star formation.

Dr. Pon is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds,
where he is continuing his studies of turbulent dissipation and shock
heating in molecular clouds.

CASCA congratulates Dr. Pon on the receipt of the 2014 J.S. Plaskett medal.

CASCA’s Qilak Award Presented to Dr. Howard Trottier (March 24, 2014)

CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Howard Trottier of Simon Fraser University (SFU) as the recipient of the 2014 Qilak award.

Prof. Trottier received a Ph.D. from McGill University in 1987. He has been a professor of physics at SFU since 1993, specializing in studies of lattice Quantum Chromodynamics.

For many years, Prof. Trottier has shown a remarkable dedication to education and public outreach. A past president of the RASC Vancouver centre, he is presently serving as Director of Telescopes. Prof. Trottier and his alter ego — MrStarryNights — have had a profound impact on astronomy education in British Columbia. Since 2007, Prof. Trottier has organized the Starry Nights program — popular gatherings of astronomy enthusiasts at SFU’s Burnaby campus. Starting in 2009, Prof. Trottier has held daytime workshops for thousands of school-age children in which participants learn the basics of telescope optics and usage; thanks to his tireless fundraising efforts, over 150 tripod-mounted refracting telescopes have been donated, about half to public schools, and half to individual families with young children. Another initiative born out of Prof. Trottier’s vision and fundraising efforts is SFU’s Astronomical Teaching Observatory, currently under construction at the Burnaby Mountain campus and to be opened in the fall of 2014. The associated Science Outreach Centre, inaugurated in January 2014, is already providing space and support for both astronomy and general science workshops for thousands of elementary, middle and high school students during daytime visits from nearby schools, for home-school families, and community groups.

Please join CASCA in thanking Dr. Trottier for his selfless dedication to improving public understanding and appreciation of science and astronomy.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA’s Dunlap Award Presented to Dr. Matt Dobbs (March 25, 2014)

The Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools is awarded biennially to an individual or team for the design, invention, or improvement of instrumentation or software that has enabled significant advances in astronomy. CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Matt Dobbs, from McGill University, as the inaugural recipient of the Dunlap Award.

Prof. Dobbs received his Ph.D. in experimental Particle Physics from the University of Victoria in 2002. Following an Owen Chamberlain Fellowship at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, he moved to McGill University where he is presently an associate professor in the Department of Physics and an associate member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. A Canada Research Chair, Prof. Dobbs was awarded a Sloan Fellowship in 2009.

An internationally recognized figure in experimental cosmology instrumentation, Prof. Dobbs is a leader in the design and implementation of systems using Superconducting Transition-Edge Sensor (TES) bolometers. Because TES bolometers can be fabricated lithographically in large arrays, they have allowed a leap forward in experimental sensitivity for CMB experiments. Prof. Dobbs’ design and end-to-end implementation of multiplexed TES readout systems for the South Pole Telescope, PolarBEAR, EBEX and other telescopes have contributed directly to groundbreaking advances in CMB research, including galaxy cluster surveys with the Sunyaev Zel’dovich effect and ultra-deep measurements of CMB polarization.

Please join us in congratulating Prof. Dobbs on the receipt of the 2014 Dunlap Award.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

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