The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Arecibo Observatory to Offer New Opportunities for Visiting Scientists

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will launch a new series of programs to host junior and senior scientists at the observatory to boost the transfer of scientific knowledge and train the next generations of observatory users.

The National Science Foundation-owned facility, home to one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, has been instrumental in advancing knowledge about space for the past 50 years. UCF manages the facility under an agreement with the NSF, which recently awarded the university a $1.5 million grant to expand the observatory’s knowledge-transfer efforts.

The observatory will roll out several new initiatives, help staff and scientists at Arecibo share their expertise, and host graduate students, junior and senior scientists onsite to spur new projects.

“We have several programs we will be doing in the next few years,” says Noemí Pinilla Alonso, deputy principal scientist at Arecibo leading the grant efforts. “We will have senior scientists visiting with our staff onsite for three months at a time accompanied by visiting scholar students”.

The idea is to bring in scientists with at least 10 years of experience who would work on research projects that align with the research expertise of the onsite science staff. These scientists will be paired with a graduate student so they can dive into some hands-on work.

“We are also establishing a program for pre-eminent postdoctoral scholars who can come and benefit from our expertise and equipment,” she says. These junior scientists (postdoctoral scholars) who work together with the scientists and staff at the observatory will conduct their own research. All these programs have a clear intention to grow collaborations benefiting both the well-established scientists and those new to the field. Through that collaboration, new discoveries or ideas are likely to blossom, Pinilla Alonso says.

Those selected through the visiting program would receive travel funds and stipends covering the three-month stay. For the postdoctoral researchers, the observatory director will guarantee up to 100 hours of telescope time, Pinilla Alonso says. Application information will be posted on the Arecibo website this year, she adds. The goal is to have most of the program opportunities running by mid-2020.

The grant also provides some funding for big data mining to help researchers tap into the data already collected by scientists at the facility. This program will complement another initiative announced last month. UCF announced it was expanding its agreement with Microsoft, which will allow UCF to use a variety of Azure cloud services –– from analytics to artificial intelligence –– to develop a new platform that will help facilitate access and storage of the data the observatory has collected in its 50-year history.

“The goal is to keep our institutional knowledge, inspire the next generation of astronomers and build expertise and interest among junior and established scientists to continue the cutting-edge research we do at Arecibo,” Pinilla Alonso says.

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