SDSS member Brice Ménard Awarded Prestigious Packard Fellowship

SDSS congratulates Dr. Brice Ménard (Johns Hopkins University) on receiving a David and Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowship.  This $850,000, five-year grant is awarded to “the nation’s most promising early-career scientists and engineers” — only 18 such awards were given this year.  Dr. Ménard specializes in applying advance statistical techniques to large data sets to explore the distribution of galaxies and matter in the Universe.  Much of his work has exploited the rich data of SDSS and we look forward to seeing the future ideas and science to come out of this award.

For more details see the JHU press release at

http://hub.jhu.edu/2014/10/15/brice-menard-packard-fellowship

 

 

 

SDSS hits the Big time

SDSS has made it big! How big? The Big 12! To explain a little more, especially for those who are not American college football fans, the Big 12 is a group of universities* that form a league in American college football. During broadcasts of college football games, which are very popular, there are a couple of advertisements that highlight the universities’ educational and research prowess. Usually these involve good-looking students with colorful liquids in test tubes or surrounding a professor in a lab coat at a computer terminal. But that’s not good enough for TCU, home to SDSS members Kat Barger and SDSS-IV Survey Coordinator Peter Frinchaboy. Their contribution to the Big 12 ad, on a broadcast seen by over 2 million people, features a shot of the Sloan Foundation telescope opening up for a night’s observing. TCU also has its own ad for these games, which focuses entirely on its involvement in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, including more beautiful shots of the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico and a “starring” role for Peter. Take a look at http://www.big12makingadifference.com/university/tcu

* 10 universities are part of the Big 12. Don’t ask.

SDSS Tweep of the Week: Demitri Muna

Tweeting for SDSS this week is Demitri Muna, research scientist at Ohio State University. Demitri is interested in galaxy evolution and is currently working on a new stellar population synthesis code. He is designing an ambitious project called Trillian, an all-sky, multi-wavelength astronomy computational engine. Trillian was included in last week’s launch of a new project called Collaborate on Science, part of Mozilla’s Science Lab, and has support from the Center for Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics department at OSU. Demitri is interested in scientific data visualization and tools, and has played a significant role in web services for SDSS data. In his free time, Demitri also designs all of the plates for the SDSS survey and is an avid curler.

SDSS Plates

The SDSS has used thousands of plug plates in its fourteen year history. These are large aluminium plates into which tiny holes are drilled. Each hole has an optical fibre plugged into it (by hand by our plate pluggers). Each hole corresponds to the sky location where there is an object (a star or a galaxy) which SDSS wants to measure a spectrum for.

During SDSS spectroscopic observations, between six and nine of these are used every night. Each plate is custom drilled for a special part of the sky (about the size of your palm stretched out at arms length), and once all the data is collected for the astronomical objects in that plate, it becomes surplus to requirements.

All SDSS Collaboration members can request that used plates be sent to them (contact your Collaboration Council Representative for assistance with this). This has resulted in some interesting uses for the leftover plates across our diverse collaboration.

You might like to mount your plates on the wall for display.

A wall mounted plate at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, Portsmouth, UK.

A wall mounted plate at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, Portsmouth, UK. Image credit: Karen Masters

SDSS plates on display at CCAPP (Center for Cosmology and Astrophysics), Ohio State University. Image credit: Qingqing Mao.

SDSS plates on display at CCAPP (Center for Cosmology and Astrophysics), Ohio State University. Image credit: Qingqing Mao.

If doing this, it is helpful to have a good description as a guide. This is especially helpful if you are donating a plate to a local science museum or other location away from SDSS collaboration members who know what it is. The example below was made for a display of plate 825 by Jordan Raddick from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

plate825_small

To make a version of Jordan’s information sheet tailored for your own plate you can find the sky co-ordinates of your plate in this List of plate observation dates and centres. Then visit the Skyserver Navigate Tool to find an image at this location. You will likely want to invert the images, zoom out to the second largest scale, and overlay the plate location (all under “Drawing Options” to the right of the screen). You can then use Google sky to work out roughly which constellation this plate is in (unless you happen to know!), and the constellation maps are available from the IAU. To convert the MJD of observation to something understandable you might like this MJD converter.

We have a second example of plate display information from David Kirkby at UC Irvine. Here David has made an overlay of the SDSS imaging and coloured marks corresponding to the holes in BOSS plate 6640 (green for galaxies and purple for quasars), as well as an 3D representation of the distances to these objects (based on their SDSS measured redshifts).

An overlay for Plate 6640 showing both SDSS imaging and the location of drilled holes (green = galaxies; purple = quasars). Image credit: David Kirkby.

An overlay for Plate 6640 showing both SDSS imaging and the location of drilled holes (green = galaxies; purple = quasars). Image credit: David Kirkby.

A visualisation of the 3D structure behind BOSS plate 6640 based on redshifts measured by SDSS. Image credit: David Kirkby.

A visualisation of the 3D structure behind BOSS plate 6640 based on redshifts measured by SDSS. Image credit: David Kirkby.

It’s possible to back light wall mounted plates in some circumstances, to really nice effect. The below example was made by Mark Klaene at Apache Point Observatory.

KlaeneMount

Mounted in the corner of Mark Klaene’s office at APO. It is spray painted black with a fluorescent desk lamp back light.

If you’re lucky you might find a natural source of light for this effect, as in this example where Stephen Bailey from LBL has mounted a plate in the window in his office door.

OfficeDoor

SDSS Plate in an Office Door (the hole was there already).

Several collaboration members have used plates to make special coffee tables, or coffee table covers.

The most basic version of this is just placing a plate on top of a round coffee table of similar diameter.

ICG_coffeetable

Coffee table topper by Bob Nichol, ICG Portsmouth.

This second one uses a 36″ round glass top table topped with a plate. Bumpers have been added to the plate and the normal glass top placed on top of it. The lighting shown below is from a single puck from a modular LED lighting system.

PlateTableBCLee.png

Coffee table with under lighting by Brian Lee from SDSS-II.

At JHU they have made two coffee tables with the SDSS plates. The base is a hollow box made from scratch of four wood pieces and there is a lamp inside so at night you can see the light shining through the slits.

SDSSPlate_CoffeeTable1_small

Custom coffee table at JHU. Credit: Ting-Wen Lan, Murdock Hart, Guangtun Zhu and Brice Ménard. Photo courtesy of Zheng (Jared) Zheng.

SDSS Plug Plate Coffee Tables in use at JHU. Image credit: Gail Zasowski

SDSS Plug Plate Coffee Tables in use at JHU. Image credit: Gail Zasowski

Plates have also been used to make lab demos. The below is an example set up which LBL has to give quick demos.

LBLDemoPlate1

SDSS Plate Demo at LBL.

SDSS plates have also been used to make works of art. The most well know is work by Josiah McElheny in collaboration with David Weinberg (also described here and in this NYTimes Article).

Sculpture by Josiah McElheny using SDSS plug plate. Image provided by David Weinberg.

Sculpture by Josiah McElheny using SDSS plug plate. Image provided by David Weinberg.sdss

 

Sarah Ruether, an artist from Seattle and London based artist Xavier Poultney have also made artwork using plates.

Public art by Sarah Ruether made from SDSS-II plug plates

Public art by Sarah Ruether made from SDSS-II plug plates

Plate Artwork by Xavier Poultney as part of his Transient Objects exhibit.

Plate Artwork by Xavier Poultney as part of his Transient Objects exhibit.

If you have other examples of interesting uses of SDSS plates please let us know about them by commenting below, or emailing outreach@sdss.org.

See how the plates are drilled at the SDSS Plate Drilling Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle:

See how the optical fibres are plugged into a BOSS plate by our awesome SDSS plate pluggers (at Apache Point Observatory):

SDSS Tweep of the Week: Qingqing Mao

This week’s tweeter is Qingqing Mao, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.
Qingqing has a wide range of research interests spanning from the structure of our Milky Way to the very large-scale structure of our universe. He has used both SEGUE and BOSS data for his research. Currently his main project is looking at how to identify cosmic voids – which are large underdense regions with very few galaxies – in BOSS data and use them to study cosmology.
Qingqing Mao

Qingqing Mao

Qingqing also participates in SDSS EPO, especially including social network activities and multilingual efforts. He leads our efforts to keep the SDSS Chinese facebook page and SDSS Chinese Weibo updated.
Qingqing has also developed an astronomy iPhone ap, which allows users to explore data of the Cosmic Microwave Background: CMB Maps.
He regularly tweets as @maoqingqing and his personal website can be found at http://mqq.io/.

SDSS Tweep of the Week: Jonathan Bird

This week’s SDSS tweeter is Jonathan Bird, current the VIDA (Vanderbilt Inititative in Intensive Data Astrophysics) postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University, and Co-Chair of the Disk Science Working Group for APOGEE.

Jonathan Bird

Jonathan Bird

 

Jonathan received his PhD in 2012 from the Ohio State University. His thesis focused on using numerical simulations to look for patterns in the dynamics and chemistry of the stars in disk galaxies which can be linked to specific evolution and formation mechanisms. He has used both APOGEE and SEGUE data to search for such signatures in our own Milky Way Galaxy.

Jonathan is currently working on generating mock APOGEE catalogs from simulated disk galaxies. Of the SDSS surveys, he is most connected with APOGEE, where he is co-chair of the disk science working group, but he is also hoping to get more involved with MaNGA soon.

Jonathan regularly tweets as @galaxyhistorian and has been working on some awesome visualisations of the APOGEE and SEGUE data sets, so keep your fingers cross for a sneak peek this week.

SDSS Tweep of the Week: Isabelle Paris

This week the Sloan Foundation 2.5m telescope at Apache Point Observatory will reopen and start observing for the new season. Did you know that all SDSS Collaboration members can sign up for nightly notifications of what the telescope has been observing?

The tweeter for this exciting week in the annual life of SDSS will be Isabelle Paris from the Osservatorio astronomico di Trieste (Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy). Isabelle has been an SDSS member since she started working on her PhD with Patrick Petitjean at the IAP (Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, France). The topic of her thesis was the cosmological evolution of the opacity of the intergalactic medium, which Isabelle studied using SDSS-DR7 and BOSS data. Following this Isabelle has a 2 year postdoc at the Universidad de Chile, and is now an External Participant of the SDSS Collaboration based in Trieste.

Isabelle Paris pictured here hard at work as a collaboration meeting in Pittsburgh in July 2010.

Isabelle Paris pictured here hard at work as a collaboration meeting in Pittsburgh in July 2010.

Isabelle is the Chair of the (SDSS-III) quasar science working-group and is also in charge of generating the quasar catalogues for SDSS. So I think we can expect to hear a lot about supermassive black holes and very high redshift sources this week.

Above,  Isabelle is pictured in July 2010 attending a BOSS Lyman-alpha Forest and Quasar Working Groups meeting in Pittsburgh.

SDSS Tweep of the Week: John Parejko

This week the SDSS is preparing for our telescope at Apache Point Observatory to come out of its usual 4 week summer vacation shutdown and get back to observing.

This period of shutdown is a very busy one for SDSS operations when a lot of essential maintenance happens. For example this year the primary mirror of the telescope has been given a new reflective coating. The timing of the shut down is set to coincide with the monsoon season in the South West of the USA – a period when the weather is often not good for observing anyway.

As part of the process of re-opening, SDSS Operations Software Guru John Parejko (who is usually based at Yale University in New Haven, CT) will travel out to APO. John has agreed to tweet what’s going on for us as our “Tweep of the week” while the telescope gets ready to start observing again.

John Parejko in front of the Sloan 2.5m Telescope at Apache Point Observatory.

John Parejko in front of the Sloan 2.5m Telescope at Apache Point Observatory.

John got his PhD in physics in 2010 from Drexel University where he used SDSS data to study the topic of Low Luminosity Active Galaxies (ie. how supermassive black holes which are only accreting a little bit work). Following this he was a postdoc at Yale University working on the BOSS (Baryon Acoustic Oscillation Spectrosopice Survey) data, before taking over responsibility for the SDSS telescope operations software two years ago.

John’s an example of someone whose been in the SDSS family for a while!

SDSS Collaboration Meetings in Park City, Utah, USA

Over 150 scientists from institutions in 13 countries in Europe, Asia, North America and South America recently traveled to Park City, Utah for the SDSS Collaboration meetings. First SDSS-IV got underway. The start of SDSS-IV observations on July 1, 2014 meant that this meeting was much less anticipatory and much more participatory than the SDSS-IV meeting last year. For the second half of the week, the SDSS-III collaboration, data all taken, was focused on the interesting science results coming out of this very successful 6-year survey. The overlap between the membership of the SDSS-IV and SDSS-III collaborations is quite large, so expect to see many of the faces in the photo from the SDSS-III half of the meeting in the future as well! Our enthusiastic thanks to the University of Utah for playing host to such a fabulous set of meetings.

SDSS-III collaboration meeting picture from the wonderful setting of Park City, Utah

SDSS-III collaboration meeting picture from the wonderful setting of Park City, Utah

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SDSS Tweep of the Week – Karen Masters

This week is the 2014 SDSS Collaboration Meeting which is happening in Park City, Utah. The @SDSSurveys twitter account will be “taken over” this week by Dr. Karen Masters from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth.

Karen is the first ever “SDSS Tweep of the Week” – a new idea to give the SDSS Twitter account over to collaboration members for week long stints. We don’t expect to fill every week this way, but look out on the blog for introductions to future “Tweeps” from the more than 200 scientists involved in SDSS from all over the world.

As our SDSS Director of Education and Public Engagement, Karen is the ideal guinea pig for this plan. Karen is also a science team member of the @MangaSurvey part of SDSS so expect to hear a lot from MaNGA parallel sessions during this week.

Dr. Karen Masters

Dr. Karen Masters – SDSS Director of EPO and a member of the MaNGA Science Team

If you’re a SDSS Collaboration Member reading this and interested to sign up for a week please visit the Twitter Schedule on the Wiki (password protected site).

Sloan Research Fellowships Open for Nominations

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is now accepting nominations for Sloan Research Fellowships in eight fields: chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. These two-year, $50,000 fellowships are awarded annually to 126 early-career faculty in recognition of their distinguished performance and exceptional potential as researchers. Candidates must be nominated by a department head or other senior researcher. For more information, please visit this site:

http://www.sloan.org/sloan-research-fellowships

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Expands Its Reach

With the start of SDSS-IV this July, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is entering a new and exciting phase of exploring the Universe. We’ve imaged 1/3 of the sky and taken over 3 million spectra, but we haven’t explored beyond the centers of nearby galaxies, haven’t mapped the Universe between 3 and 7 billion years after the Big Bang, and haven’t studied the part of the Milky Way that is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Well, that all changes starting now! We have a press release today featuring the science of SDSS-IV and including a fantastic video by John Parejko illustrating how SDSS takes all that data (hint: it starts with a lot of work in the daytime and continues with a lot of work in the nighttime).

 

Revamp of SDSS.org

As part of the transition from SDSS-III to SDSS-IV we have just launched a revamped version of the sdss.org website.

The site is redesigned to represent the entire SDSS, from the beginning through today. We hope that it provides a good balance between presenting our amazing results so far and our exciting future.

The original SDSS website is still available at classic.sdss.org, and the SDSS-III website is still available at www.sdss3.org.

Congratulations to the web team on the successful transition of the sites.