SANTA CRUZ, CA–The University of California, Santa Cruz, has
received a grant of $9.1 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore
Foundation to establish a Laboratory for Adaptive Optics. The new
laboratory strengthens UCSC’s position as an astronomy powerhouse and
a national center for research on the exciting new technology of
adaptive optics. The grant is the largest contribution from a private
foundation in the history of UC Santa Cruz.

The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics will develop innovative
instrumentation for the application of adaptive optics technology in
astronomy. Adaptive optics sharpen the vision of ground-based
telescopes by removing the blurring effects of turbulence in the
Earth’s atmosphere.

The new laboratory complements the Center for Adaptive Optics,
headquartered at UCSC and established in 1999 with a $20 million
grant from the National Science Foundation. The center focuses on the
advancement of adaptive optics technology in astronomy and vision
science. The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics will be administered by
UC Observatories/Lick Observatory (UCO/Lick), which already oversees
a set of world-class technical facilities for astronomical
instrumentation on the UCSC campus, including an optical lab and
shops, an engineering lab, and an advanced detector lab.

“This grant builds on UCSC’s existing strengths in astronomy,
astronomical instrumentation, and adaptive optics, and we are
extremely grateful to the Moore Foundation for their very generous
support of this important work,” said UCSC Chancellor M.R.C.

The new grant will help establish the campus as the leading
institution in the world for research in adaptive optics, Greenwood
said. As the home campus for UCO/Lick, UCSC has long been prominent
in the field of astronomy. Its Department of Astronomy and
Astrophysics has been ranked number one in the country for the impact
of its faculty’s research in the field of astrophysics.

“UC Santa Cruz is a superb location for the Laboratory for Adaptive
Optics, which will play a major role in the future of astronomy and
other fields where high-quality images are important,” said Ed
Penhoet, senior director of science and education at the Moore

The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics will enable researchers to develop
prototypes of advanced adaptive optics equipment and concepts and
test them in a controlled laboratory setting. It will also serve as a
training facility where researchers and students can gain experience
with adaptive optics equipment. It will be the first such
comprehensive university laboratory dedicated to adaptive optics in
the United States, said Joseph Miller, director of UCO/Lick.

“In many ways, adaptive optics is still in its infancy, and the
potential is great for the development of powerful new equipment and
techniques. A laboratory like this is important for furthering the
development of this technology,” Miller said.

The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics will serve as a testing facility
for ideas and concepts developed at the Center for Adaptive Optics
(CfAO), which does not have laboratories or experimental facilities
directly associated with it at UCSC, said Claire Max, professor of
astronomy and astrophysics and an associate director of CfAO. Max is
the lead scientist on the Moore Foundation grant; Miller and CfAO
director Jerry Nelson are coprincipal investigators.

“The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics gives UCSC and UCO/Lick an
entirely new capability that will be the foundation for many future
projects and significant advances in adaptive optics systems,” Max

The laboratory will focus initially on developing equipment for two
cutting-edge concepts in adaptive optics: extreme adaptive optics and
multi-conjugate adaptive optics. Extreme adaptive optics promises to
give astronomers the ability to directly detect and study planets
around other stars far beyond our own solar system. More than 80 of
these “extrasolar” planets have been detected in recent years by
indirect measurements of the gravitational effects the planets have
on their parent stars. Direct imaging of such planets would enable
astronomers to learn more about their properties and perhaps even to
detect signs of life.

Multi-conjugate adaptive optics involves making multiple corrections
to account for the effects of turbulence at different levels in the
atmosphere. It also enables the adaptive optics system to correct for
the effects of turbulence over a much larger area of the sky.
Multi-conjugate adaptive optics will be essential for the extremely
large telescopes astronomers plan to build in the near future.
According to Max, however, considerable advances over existing
technology are needed to put the theory of multi-conjugate adaptive
optics into practice.

The Laboratory for Adaptive Optics will enable researchers to build
and test prototype equipment for both extreme adaptive optics and
multi-conjugate adaptive optics, Max said.

“We will be able to test new components and new algorithms under
controlled conditions, and compare different ways of optimizing the
performance of adaptive optics systems,” she said. “One of the
problems with testing equipment on a telescope is that you never know
exactly what the atmosphere was doing during your test, whereas in
the lab you can impose a known mock-up of what the atmosphere might

Miller said he expects the new laboratory to be up and running within
a year. Several options are under consideration for the lab’s
location, including sites adjacent to the existing UCO/Lick optical

“I am overjoyed that UC Santa Cruz has been awarded this sensational
gift,” commented Marion Cope, chair of the Development Committee for
the UC Santa Cruz Foundation. “I have watched this young campus
attain national and international recognition for its outstanding
research. Support from private sources is crucial to maintain this
upward trajectory. Many thanks to the Moore Foundation.”

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is a private, family,
grant-making institution dedicated to the improvement of the quality
of life through education, science, and conservation. The Foundation
emphasizes grant outcomes that affect future generations. Established
by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, the foundation
funds projects in four program areas: higher education, scientific
research, the environment, and selected San Francisco Bay Area
projects. The foundation began operations in late 2000 and is
headquartered in San Francisco.


Editor’s note: Reporters may contact Miller at (831) 459-2991 or, and Max at (831) 459-2049 or