Scientist (Open Rank)

Job Summary

Scientific / Technical Staff
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Number of Positions Available
Work Arrangement

Job Description

The North American ALMA Regional Center (NA ARC) is the science operations division of North American ALMA. It supports the North American astronomical community in using ALMA and, in collaboration with the ALMA international partners, provides scientific support for the operations and development of the Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) in Chile.

ALMA is now entering a very exciting phase. Over the next several years, ALMA will be undergoing a major upgrade of the array’s components – the ALMA Wideband Sensitivity Upgrade (WSU). The objective is to increase the system bandwidth by at least a factor of two (and a goal of a factor of four), as well as to improve the sensitivity of most receivers and improve the digital efficiency throughout the signal chain. This ALMA partnership-wide WSU initiative includes replacing the entire analog and digital signal chain from the output of the receivers through the digital correlator, will replace or upgrade attendant software systems and physical infrastructure, and, on a phased basis, replace existing receivers with upgraded wide bandwidth versions. The goal is to complete the signal chain upgrade by the end of the decade with some receiver bands upgraded later. The commissioning and rollout of the WSU is planned to be carried out in a parallel operations mode, where commissioning the new WSU system will take place alongside ongoing scientific operations using the legacy observing system.

The NA ARC is seeking a qualified candidate for a scientific staff position within the North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC) Telescope Interface and Diagnostics Group. The focus of this position will be to support the commissioning of the ALMA WSU, in particular the new Advanced Technology ALMA Correlator, and serve as a technical expert in the planning and preparation for WSU commissioning and subsequent operations.

The appointment will be on the NRAO Scientist track (Assistant Scientist, Associate Scientist, or Scientist; rank will depend on the candidate’s experience), with 25% discretionary research time and 75% functional responsibilities. The appointment will be in residence at the NRAO headquarters located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Some telework may be possible for experienced candidates.

The staff scientist will be a member of the NA ARC and for functional duties will contribute to team activities under the direction of the NA ARC Manager and Deputy NA ARC Manager. They will:

  • Work closely with other members of the NAASC, the North American ALMA Development team, and the JAO.
  • Play a major role in the planning, preparation, commissioning, and rollout of the WSU, including spending periods of time at the Operations Support Facility near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, and training other staff in commissioning activities.
  • Serve as a technical expert for the capabilities of the WSU systems in the support of users, e.g. supporting user questions on the WSU via the ALMA Helpdesk, during commissioning and in subsequent operations.
  • Facilitate and enable cutting-edge science by the community and help enhance the observing capabilities for ALMA.
  • Contribute to the overall NRAO mission and contribute to a collaborative international environment that supports leadership and teamwork.
  • Be versatile and adapt to new challenges and opportunities as NRAO’s astronomical landscape and observatory functional needs evolve.

Although the primary focus of the position is the WSU, staff scientists within the NA ARC are involved in a variety of other scientific support activities such as supporting investigators in obtaining, reducing, and analyzing data; imaging data and developing imaging techniques; developing scientific software, and engaging in community training activities.

NRAO staff scientists are expected to carry out an independent research program using 25% of their time. Research programs may be multi-wavelength in nature but are generally expected to be synergistic with the science relevant to NRAO’s current and planned facilities, particularly ALMA. Active and engaged research is important because staff scientists are expected to push the telescopes’ capabilities, building on their own research and the needs of the broader astronomical community.

NRAO conducts a range of programs in education and public outreach, diversity and inclusion, and broader impacts, and encourages interested staff to participate in these activities. While NRAO is not a degree-granting institution, its programs for undergraduate and graduate student research experiences afford opportunities for staff to mentor and interact with students.

Work Environment

Work is mission driven, team oriented, and typically performed in an office setting within a research or development environment. Some domestic and international travel will be required for this position, including spending periods of time at the ALMA Operations Support Facility near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, at an elevation of 2,900m.

The ideal candidate will have a strong background in commissioning or developing cutting-edge scientific instrumentation relevant to ALMA and will demonstrate the ability to become a resident technical expert on the WSU and play a major role in WSU commissioning.

Minimum Education

  • Ph.D. in astronomy, astrophysics or a related field

Minimum Experience:

  • One or more years of work experience at the post-doctoral or staff scientist level, or equivalent (dated from application close date), relevant to all the following areas. Candidates with at least two years of relevant experience in these areas will be given preference.
    • Experience with radio/millimeter/submillimeter astronomy and interferometry and associated telescope systems (instrumentation or software)
    • Experience commissioning interferometer telescope hardware and/or software
    • Experience with astronomical observing and working in an observatory setting
    • Demonstrated ability to work in and lead a team
  • Willingness to travel to and work at a remote telescope facility on temporary assignments

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Demonstrated experience leading the commissioning of cutting-edge telescope hardware and/or software.
  • Demonstrated experience commissioning and/or developing both interferometer and single dish telescope hardware and/or software.
  • Experience training others in the commissioning and/or development of cutting-edge telescope hardware and/or software.
  • Experience diagnosing and troubleshooting telescope or array related issues, including diagnostic analysis of imperfect radio or millimeter data.
  • Experience operating radio frequency (RF) equipment or digital systems in a laboratory development environment.
  • Experience using Python or another scientific programming language.
  • Familiarity with common software packages used for data processing and analysis in astronomical research (e.g. CASA).
  • Demonstrated interest in broadening participation and commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Established record of independent research.

Preferred Competencies

  • Demonstrated ability to comprehend and synthesize new and complex technical information
  • Demonstrated ability in self-directed investigations and problem-solving
  • Demonstrated ability to work both independently and in an internationally-distributed team environment
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills (verbal and written)
  • Mission-oriented/goal-oriented focus
  • Versatility and adaptability to a changing functional work environment

The hiring committee will first consider applicants who meet the stated preferred qualifications.

Application Instructions

You will need to be prepared to upload a single PDF document consisting of the following items:

  1. Cover letter describing why you are interested in this position and how your education and experience match the requirements, qualifications and competencies described above (maximum 2 pages).
  2. Curriculum vitae.
  3. List of refereed publications.
  4. Summary of past technical and/or observational experience relevant to the position (maximum 3 pages)
  5. Description of research accomplishments and future research plans (maximum 3 pages)

Applicants should also arrange for up to three letters of reference to be sent to [email protected] by the deadline.

Application Deadline

The deadline for receipt of all application materials is February 23, 2024 at 23:59 ET.

AUI is an equal opportunity employer. Women, Minorities, Vietnam-Era Veterans, Disabled Veterans, Veterans and Individuals with Disabilities are encouraged to apply. To view our complete statement, please visit If you require reasonable accommodation for any part of the application or hiring process due to a disability, you may submit your request by sending an email to [email protected].

Compensation and Benefits

Included Benefits

NRAO’s benefits package addresses the needs of employees and their families with most benefits beginning on the first day of employment. NRAO provides excellent paid time off (13 holidays, annual accrual of up to 24 vacation days and 15 sick days, additional time off for doctor/dentist visits, and 8 weeks of paid parental leave). Medical, dental and vision plans are effective on the first day of employment. NRAO’s retirement benefit contributes an amount equal to 10 percent of a qualified participant’s base pay with no required employee contribution; we also offer an optional supplemental, tax-deferred plan for employee retirement contributions.

Application Details

Publication Start Date
2024 Jan 17
Application Deadline
2024 Feb 23
Reference Code


Catherine Vlahakis