Adaptive Optics Scientist

Job Summary

Scientific / Technical Staff
Research & Science Services
Number of Positions Available
Work Arrangement

Job Description

NSF’s NOIRLab has an immediate opening for an Adaptive Optics (AO) Scientist for the International Gemini Observatory.   The AO Scientist will participate in the development and operation of the AO facilities at the Gemini South facility in La Serena, Chile.  The successful candidate is expected to use approximately 20% of their time to carry out original and innovative research. We are committed to diversity and inclusion at Gemini Observatory. Our managing organization, AURA, as a leader in the astronomical community, develops and supports programs that advance our organizational commitment to diversity, broaden participation, and encourage the advancement of diversity throughout the astronomical scientific workforce.  Learn more at

The NSF's NOIRLab is an AURA-managed center headquartered in Tucson, Arizona that integrates the operations of the Gemini Observatory, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, Mid-Scale Observatories (MSO), and Community Science and Data Center (CSDC) as a matrix organization with facilities in Arizona, Chile and Hawai`i.

GeMS is the world’s first Laser Guide Star Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics system operated as a facility class system on an 8-meter class telescope. It recently received a significant upgrade to its natural guide-star wavefront sensor, greatly expanding its sky coverage. In the short term the focus is on optimizing the system and its operation from the base facility in La Serena. The AO Scientist will play a leading role in those developments, in parallel with the ongoing operation of the system; we are working to increase the availability of the system for optimisation and development purposes. In the longer term the AO Scientist will move on to anticipated major upgrades, e.g. to the Real-Time Computer and the control loops of the AO system. 

Occasional travel to the Gemini South telescope on Cerro Pachon will initially be required and is expected to diminish in frequency as remote operations are enabled. The position will mostly work regular office hours, but night time observing duties will also be required, both physically at the telescope on Cerro Pachon, and also remotely from the base facility in La Serena. Occasional travel to international destinations including Gemini North in Hilo, Hawaii may be required. This position will be filled at either the Postdoctoral Fellow, Assistant Scientist, Associate Scientist, or Scientist level depending on the skills and experience of the successful candidate. The initial appointment will be for 3 years, with the possibility of extension, renewal, or promotion based on operational needs, funding and performance.

Essential Functions of the Job: 

  • Supports the AO instruments and AO observations at Gemini, including daytime calibrations and tests, night-time operations and support, and troubleshooting and fault resolution.
  • Coordinates with NOIRLab AO staff and Gemini Science and Engineering Operations to organize and manage upgrades, maintenance and improvements to Gemini AO systems.
  • Carries out original observational and/or instrumentation research projects and prepares results for publication.
  • Provides specialist advice to others on scientific exploitation of AO-related facilities.
  • Organizes commissioning and ongoing development of Gemini telescopes, AO instrumentation, and support facilities.
  • Contributes to development of software for reduction and analysis of AO data.
  • Tests, calibrates, maintains and documents new and existing astronomical equipment, including AO instruments, observing systems, and software, in collaboration with scientific and engineering staff.
  • Presents scientific and technical results at astronomical meetings and symposia.
  • Maintains an interest in the scientific mission of Gemini, its relation to NOIRLab and the wider scientific context and to the public interest.
  • Participates in observatory committees and national/international scientific organizations and meetings.
  • Contributes to public outreach and communicating astronomy to the public.
  • Serves on interview panels.

Required Education/Experience/Skills/Abilities:

  • PhD. in Astronomy or related field.
  • Ability to work in small teams as well as independently.
  • Ability to communicate with a wide variety of staff, visiting observers and remote investigators throughout the Gemini partnership.
  • Good team player skills in a culturally diverse environment.
  • Good technical writing and oral communication skills.
  • An aptitude for dealing with practical problems and issues.
  • Willing and able to travel internationally.
  • Motivation and ability to identify and carry out new projects in a team environment while participating in the day-to-day operations of the observatory.
  • Proficiency with astronomical software and data reduction techniques.
  • Ability to contribute to scientific research programs using Gemini.

Preferred Education/Experience/Skills/Abilities:

  • At least 3 years of experience working with Adaptive Optics systems, preferably at a major ground based astronomical observatory. This is not a requirement for hiring as a postdoctoral fellow, but is required at any of the scientist levels.
  • Knowledge of computer programming such as Python and/or Yorick.
  • Knowledge in AO end-to-end simulation tools such as YAO, OOMAO, etc. 
  • Proficiency in spoken Spanish.

Physical Demands:

The physical demands described here are representative of those that must be met by an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of this job. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

The work is mostly carried out in an office environment. Long periods of sitting and computer usage will be required. Given the international nature of NOIRLab, the successful applicant may need to travel to the various observatory sites (Arizona and Hawai`i) and other locations for business purposes.

*NOIRLab has the majority of staff working virtually during the COVID-19 crisis. The safety of our staff and community is our top priority. We will continue to interview and screen candidates in this new virtual landscape. Offers of employment can be extended and new hires will on-board virtually once they are resident in the La Serena area. 

Submission materials: Please include: a CV or resume, a cover letter detailing your professional interests and qualifications for the position, and the names of at least 3 professional references by September 30, 2021. Interviews will be scheduled for candidates who meet the minimum qualifications and complete the application process as instructed. The position will remain open until filled.  

Veterans, disabled individuals or wounded warriors needing assistance with the employment process should request assistance at [email protected]

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a consortium of over 40 US institutions and three international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories. AURA’s role is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. AURA is responsible for managing the operations of the NSF’s NOIRLab, the National Solar Observatory, and the construction of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope under cooperative agreements with the National Science Foundation and operations of the Space Telescope Science Institute under contracts with NASA.

As a recipient of U.S. Government funding, AURA is considered a government contractor and is subject to Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action regulations. As an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer, AURA and all of the centers, do not discriminate based on race, sex, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity/gender identity expression, lawful political affiliations, veteran status, disability, and/or any other legally protected status under applicable federal, state, and local equal opportunity laws.

Compensation and Benefits

Included Benefits

AURA offers an excellent benefits package including paid time off and retirement plan contributions, competitive salary commensurate with experience, and a very attractive work environment.

Application Details

Publication Start Date
2021 Jul 17
Application Deadline
2021 Sep 30
Reference Code