Two EAS members awarded prizes for revolutionary curved detectors

Fully functional prototype, CMOS, 20 megapixels full frame (24x32mm²), working in the visible, just delivered by CEA-LETI in the frame of the LAM-CEA collaboration funded under the FOCUS Labex and ERC. Credit: LAM / CEA-LETI

Two members of the European Astronomical Society (EAS) have been awarded prizes this week during the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS2017) in Prague, Czech Republic, in part to acknowledge their involvement in the emergence of curved detectors: The Tycho Brahe Prize for Bernard Delabre from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), and the New Technologies MERAC prize for Emmanuel Hugot from the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, who is leading an ERC programme on these developments.

The small world of curved detectors, either CCD or CMOS-like, starts to be very competitive, preparing a tremendous revolution in the field of wide field imaging systems. By directly correcting the field curvature in the focal plane, curved detectors help saving about one third of the optics, usually used as field flatteners, and then avoids undesirable distortion effect either in the image and also on the optical properties across the field of view.

After ten years of effort to convince the astronomical community about the benefits offered by curved focal planes, the activity is now ongoing around the world, with academic developments at ESO, Stanford, MIT, but also at the industrial level with recent realizations from Sony and Microsoft.

In terms of technologies, this is the dawn of a new era for astronomical instrumentation, with the access to wider fields and exquisite homogeneity of the optical properties across the images, and faster systems not possible with classical flat foal planes. Also, fewer components are needed, and the remaining ones are less complex.

ESA and ESO already expressed their interest in having dedicated programs focused on the maturity level increase of these new devices. Hugot has high expectations of these new devices: “Soon to be off-the-shelf components for civil applications (cameras, bio-medical) these breakthrough components will blossom in the focal planes of any telescope in the future.”

The MERAC Prize for Theoretical Astrophysics went to Selma the Mink (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands) for her major contributions to our understanding of the role of binarity as one of the dominant physical parameters for massive stars. The MERAC Prize in Observational Astrophysics was awarded to Kevin Schawinski, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland, for his groundbreaking work on the galaxy/black hole connection and innovative use of citizen science in astrophysics.

The MERAC Prize consists of 20,000 euros, the Tycho Brahe Prize is worth 6,000 euros.