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Early this month, we had our first commissioning run of the Folded Port Infrared Echellette, or FIRE, a near-infrared spectrograph designed for the Magellan Telescopes.  After a two-week installation period in late February/early March led by the instrument PI Rob Simcoe, FIRE team members John Bochanski and Matt Smith from MIT and Craig McMurtry from U. Rochester, and Magellan engineers (I missed all the action, teaching 250 students Physics 1), FIRE was ready to view the sky for a week-long commissioning run starting March 28th.

Early results have been spectacular.  A few of the image frames from the first week are shown below.  The high quantum efficiency and low readnoise of the Teledyne Hawaii 2RG detectors, and the excellent image quality of the Baade Telescope, has resulted in higher sensitivity than originally planned.   In the echelle mode, Rob has estimated roughly 20-25% efficiency, including telescope and slit losses, and a nearly-flat zero point of 16-17 AB magnitudes (1 count/sec/pixel) across the 0.85-2.4 micron range.  In plain language, this means we can observe very faint sources – such as a the coldest brown dwarfs and highest redshift quasars – with the echelle mode’s moderate resolution (λ/Δλ ≈ 6000).  The prism-dispersed mode has also proven very sensitive, and we’ve been able to follow-up several J ≈ 19-20 cold brown dwarf candidates from WISE with relative ease.  Look for first science results in the literature soon!

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The FIRE spectrograph

The FIRE spectrograph in the MIT lab, cooling down for testing

Today we obtained our first lab images with the Folded Port Infrared Echellette, or FIRE, spectrograph.  This instrument is being built by Rob Simcoe, myself, Paul Schechter, John Bochanski, Jason Fishner and Matt Smith at MIT; Criag McMurtry, Judy Pipher and Bill Forrest at U. Rochester; and Rebecca Bernstein and Bruce Bigelow at UC Santa Cruz.  FIRE is a near-infrared spectrograph that will be installed at the Magellan Telescopes, Las Campanas Observatory, hopefully in January 2010.

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I miss you Eames chair

I miss you Eames chair

This year I made a move from my faculty position at MIT to one at UC San Diego.  While there were many wonderful and positive things I was leaving behind in the process (good friends, brilliant students, phenomenal staff and a supportive and scientifically engaging department), the one thing that my backside will miss the most is my Eames lounge chair. I purchased this design icon as a “thinking chair”, but it was a frequent hit with visitors, students and of course the other junior faculty.  Indeed, not long after I had made public my decision to head out to San Diego, I received emails like the following from my colleagues:

“If you are not taking it with you right away, can I keep your Eames Chair for “safeguarding” in my office? I promise to give it back whenever you either come back or take it with you..”

Unfortunately, this was not an item that could leave MIT, so it was clear that it had to be passed on to a deserving recipient.  But how to pick one person in a department of superstars?  Thus was born:

The Adam J. Burgasser Endowed Chair of Astrophysics

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Daniella Baradalez Gagliuffi's poster at BURS

Daniella Bardalez Gagliuffi's poster at BURS

This past weekend I attended the inaugural Boston Undergraduate Research Symposium hosted by the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association.  An interdisciplinary conference, undergraduates from MIT, Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Northeastern, UMass, WPI, Emmanuel & Olin were there presenting their research on a wide variety of topics, from Astrophysics to Sociology. It was heavily science-oriented, but included non-science topics as well (including a interesting comparison of the author of Peter Pan to Nietzsche by Heidi Hirschl of Harvard).  The conference was dominated by poster presentations – I guesstimate there were roughly 100 posters, including one from my own UROP student, Daniella Baradalez Gagliuffi.  Eight very excellent undergraduates talks were given during the course of the day, including three from MIT students.  I was particularly impressed with how well these talks were given, absolutely clear and professional.  There were also three “keynote” faculty speakers, Robert Langer from MIT (who runs a humungous lab), Daniel Schrag from Harvard University and Bruce Walker from Harvard Medical.

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tempSome of my 8.012 Physics I (Classical Mechanics) lectures are now avaiable at MIT TechTV in the 8.012 collection (  I shot these with a tripod and fixed camera from the back of the room, so the sound and video resolution is not great, and there appear to be some weird pauses in a few of the videos (lame “update” to iMovie), but nonetheless you might get something out of them (I sure hope my students did!).

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