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The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory announces competition for the Cameron Mitchell  McDonald Observatory Postdoctoral Fellowship in instrumentation. This Fellowship is open to anyone who has their PhD in Astronomy or closely allied field or will receive it by 31 August 2022.  The successful applicant will join the McDonald Observatory Instrumentation group and will have the opportunity to play an important role in a current instrument project for the McDonald 2.7m telescope or the 10-m Hobby-Eberly Telescope (see below). Candidates are encouraged to make contact with instrument team leads to discuss specific opportunities. The instrumentation group consists of both astronomers and engineers and has a track record of delivering significant instruments as well as training the next generation of instrumentalists. In addition to the instrumentation project, the successful candidate may conduct a research project of their choosing in any area of astronomy and astrophysics.

The fellowship includes funding for research expenses, including travel. Additional funds are available for relocation expenses. Initial appointment will be for one year beginning September 2023, with the expectation of renewal for a second and third year following satisfactory research performance. Candidates are expected to hold a Ph.D. upon arrival and to reside in Austin.

For information on employee benefits, please see the HRS-Benefits home page at http://www.utexas.edu/hr/current/insurance.

Application Instructions:

  1. Applicants should complete the application form at:

Cameron Mitchell Fellowship Applications

  1. After submitting the form, you will see a confirmation message in your browser with instructions to watch your Inbox for an email containing further instructions.
  2. The emailed instructions will include details for submitting your application materials, as well as instructions for providing to your letter writers so that they may submit their letters. Please carefully follow the instructions in this email.


The submission deadline for all application materials and letters of recommendation is December 15, 2022 at 11:59 pm Central Time.

Inquiries only may be sent to: astro_mcdobs_postdoc@utlists.utexas.edu

Equal Opportunity Employer:

The University of Texas at Austin, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable 
federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The University is committed to a policy of
equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital
status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, or veteran status in
employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.

Current McDonald Observatory Instrumentation Projects and Initiatives

(September, 2022)

The following projects are ongoing for McDonald Observatory facilities on Mt Locke and Mt Fowlkes and approximate timeframes are indicated. Please contact the Leads indicated for further information.

VIRUS2 – Gary Hill, Hanshin Lee, Niv Drory

The Visible Integral-field Replicable Unit Spectrograph 2 (VIRUS2) is a new facility instrument at the McDonald Observatory 2.7 m Harlan J Smith Telescope (HJST) that combines novel technologies developed as part of the HET VIRUS and LRS2 instruments to achieve an integral field spectrograph with large wavelength and area coverage. The lenslet-coupled fiber integral field unit has 1536 2.5 arcsec elements and 2.33 square arcminute field of view, along with a separate sky field. Light is split into 24 spectrograph channels to provide simultaneous coverage of this area over 370-930 nm at R~2000. VIRUS2 utilizes novel beamsplitting and scrambling techniques as part of the fiber feed and is being assembled in Austin. There are opportunities to join the instrument testing, deployment and commissioning for this forefront instrument, through 2023. An enhanced calibration system employing Fabry-Perot Etalons is planned and there are opportunities to be involved with this initiative. Science applications include studies of nearby galaxies including the circumgalactic medium, starburst driven outflows, galaxy clusters and transients. See Hill et al (2022) and Lee et al (2022a) and references therein for details.

HET CCAS instrument upgrade – Hanshin Lee, Herman Kriel

The Center of Curvature Alignment Sensor for the HET is being replaced with an upgraded system to provide improved alignment precision and metrology for the 91 primary mirror segments. The upgrade employs several novel sub-systems, integrated into a complex opto-electro-mechanical instrument that will be mounted in the CCAS tower.

AWACS – Hanshin Lee

The Arrayed Wide-Angle Camera System (AWACS) is developing segmented-field corrector architecture that can be scaled to a much larger than meter-size field of view featured in Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs). A prototype is being developed for the HJST to develop and prove the technology. The desired field expansion is accomplished via a suite of small optic units over a telescope’s focal surface, for field aberration and atmospheric dispersion compensation. A dual-unit science-grade AWACS, with fully-fledged opto-electro-mechanical system including miniature ADC mechanisms, precision freeform lenses, anti-reflective nanostructures, and CNC-machined mechanical structures has been deployed. See Lee et al (2022b) for details.

HRS - Phillip MacQueen

The High Resolution Spectrograph (HRS) of the HET is currently off line for a substantial upgrade in performance and capabilities.  HRS is a fiber fed instrument that is configurable into multiple modes of resolving power, spectral coverage, sky coverage, and precision radial velocity capabilities.  The objectives of the upgrade include much improved throughput at high resolving powers (70k and 105k), a bluer UV limit for abundance work (365 nm), improved radial velocity performance for exoplanet work, improved sky subtraction for faint object work and bright moonlight observing, and exposure metering for efficient observing and radial velocity precision.  Before the current upgrade HRS was a single arm spectrograph.  After the upgrade part of the existing HRS will become the red arm of a future two-arm spectrograph.  A blue arm is designed in with significant development work done to date, but is a future second phase of the upgrade that will significantly improve HRS capabilities.  Much of the hardware, control system and software is built for the first phase, but some key tasks remain.  Hardware installation and science commissioning are also significant tasks ahead in the HRS upgrade.  The time scale to completion is 3 years or less.

HJST coude spectrograph upgrades - Phillip MacQueen

The Tull Spectrograph 2 (TS2) of the HJST is a high resolution, prism cross-dispered echelle spectrograph at the 5-mirror coude feed to the HJST.  Currently TS2 uses a majority of the HJS telescope time.  The TS23 mode at R=60k is the primary configuration and covers spectral orders from 360 nm to 1050 nm, with complete spectral coverage to 580 nm.  Over the last decade TS2 has undergone many subsystem upgrades, and more are planed and desired.  TS2 can now be run by an observer from their home with support from an on-site Remote Observing Assistant operating aspects of the telescope and facility safety.  A high performance calibration system is nearing completion.  An image rotator is planned for atmospheric dispersion compensation in the coude feed, and an image stabilization subsystem is also under consideration.  A fiber feed from the HJST f8.8 Ritchey-Chretien foci is highly desired.  Such a feed would include image stabilization, atmospheric dispersion compensation, wavefront sensing for telescope focus, calibration light injection, sky subtraction, image slicing for high throughput, and a different collimator.

Grating Development – Dan Jaffe, Cyndi Brooks, Greg Mace, Hanshin Lee

The primary area of technology development at McDonald Observatory is in etched gratings for infrared and optical spectroscopy. Immersed silicon gratings have been developed for near infrared high resolution spectroscopy by the team developing IGRINS and the future GMTNIRS spectrograph for the Giant Magellan Telescope. See Jaffe et al (2014) and Kidder et al (2016). Gratings for the optical regime, created with wafer reactive ion etching techniques developed for the semiconductor industry, are under development in collaboration with Univ of North Carolina at Charlotte. See Lee et al (2022c). There is the prospect of adding etched gratins to the VIRUS2 instrument to enhance throughput, and there are opportunities to be involved in this initiative. Previously, McDonald Observatory has been on the forefront of developing volume phase holographic gratings for astronomy and has special test facilities available for grating development.


Gary J. Hill, Hanshin Lee, Brian L. Vattiat, John M. Good, Jason Ramsey, Niv Drory, Trent Peterson, Briana L. Indahl, "VIRUS2: a next generation replicated integral field spectrograph with wide field and broad wavelength coverage," Proc. SPIE 12184, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy IX, 1218413 (2022)

Daniel T. Jaffe, Stuart Barnes, Cynthia Brooks, Michael Gully-Santiago, Soojong Pak, Chan Park, Insoo Yuk, "GMTNIRS (Giant Magellan Telescope Near-Infrared Spectrograph): optimizing the design for maximum science productivity and minimum risk," Proc. SPIE 9147, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy V, 914722 (2014)

Benjamin T. Kidder, Cynthia B. Brooks, Michelle M. Grigas, Daniel T. Jaffe, "Approaching perfection in the manufacturing of silicon immersion gratings," Proc. SPIE 9912, Advances in Optical and Mechanical Technologies for Telescopes and Instrumentation II, 99123L (2016)

Hanshin Lee, Brian L. Vattiat, Gary J. Hill, Niv Drory, Jason Ramsey, John M. Good, "Mix and match as you go: integration/test of the first beam switch module production that splits wavelengths, scrambles beams, and switches fibers for the VIRUS2 instrument," Proc. SPIE 12184, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy IX, 121846L (2022a)

Hanshin Lee, Brian L. Vattiat, Uma Subash, Menelaos K. Poutous, "Integration/test of dual unit arrayed wide-angle camera system and its evaluation in the context of Extremely Large Telescopes," Proc. SPIE 12184, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy IX, 121848E (2022b)

Hanshin Lee, Uma Subash, Menelaos K. Poutous, "Fabrication and evaluation of reactive ion-plasma etched astronomical diffraction grating with anti-reflective surface nanostructures," Proc. SPIE 12188, Advances in Optical and Mechanical Technologies for Telescopes and Instrumentation V, 1218826 (2022c)