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Keck Observatory Technical Developer Wins Top Astronomical Award

June 1, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated May 31, 4:54 PM
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Dr. Peter Wizinowich, chief of technical development at W. M. Keck Observatory, has been awarded the 2022 American Astronomical Society Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation.

In an announcement made Tuesday, May 31, the AAS named recipients of its 2022 prizes for outstanding achievements in research and education and recognized Wizinowich for his “pioneering work on the Keck adaptive optics systems.”

“These systems have set the standard for the performance of adaptive optics systems on telescopes in the 8–10-meter class and transformed an experimental technology into a very productive user capability that has enabled dramatic new scientific discoveries,” the AAS stated.

Wizinowich joined Keck Observatory in 1991. His career has been dedicated toward ensuring telescopes can clearly see objects in the universe, especially faint ones, by way of adaptive optics, or AO. This technique corrects the distortion caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, sharpening what would otherwise be blurry astronomical images, and allowing scientists to view them in substantially finer detail.

“I deeply appreciate this recognition of the astronomical science the Keck adaptive optics systems have enabled,” Wizinowich said. “Building and fielding these systems would not have been possible without the commitment, careful thought, and hard work of many people, from engineers, to scientists and funders. It has been an honor to lead these efforts and a pleasure to see these systems become very productive science tools.”

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Keck stated in news release about the award that Wizinowich’s leadership and ingenuity in optical science, Keck Observatory became the first in the world to successfully install natural guide star AO in 1999 and laser guide star AO in 2004 on a large telescope.

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One of the most notable scientific discoveries this innovative technology has enabled is UCLA Prof. Andrea Ghez’s investigation into our Milky Way galaxy’s supermassive black hole, which garnered the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Established in 2001, the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation is awarded to an individual who has designed, invented, or significantly improved instrumentation leading to advances in astronomy.

Wizinowich will receive his award and be honored at the January 2023 AAS meeting in Seattle.

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“Peter has been at the center of our technical excellence for decades,” said Hilton Lewis, director of Keck Observatory. “His contributions to astronomy are truly an inspiration and I am pleased to see the spotlight shine on him by way of the 2022 Joseph Weber Award – exceedingly well-deserved.”

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