Subject: 11/12/01 minutes, APO user's committee meeting

From: strauss@astro.Princeton.EDU

Submitted: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 10:30:08 -0500 (EST)

Message number: 530 (previous: 529, next: 531 up: Index)

  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m User's Committee Meeting
		November 12, 2001

Attending: Mike Shull, Bruce Gillespie, Ed Turner, Michael Strauss,
Lew Hobbs, Bruce Balick, Jon Holtzman

Not attending: Alan Uomoto, Rene Walterbos

The two main topics of this meeting were the upcoming report on the
3.5m to the ARC Board of Governors, and the imminent DIS upgrade.

Turner: This has been the least eventful year of 3.5m operations of
the last six; it has been much more routine, and thankfully not
punctuated with major problems.  Thus the report to the board will be
somewhat more routine than in previous years, and will be relatively
brief, leaving more time to discuss the strategic plan for the
telescope and observatory.

  We haven't gotten a great deal of feedback from the user's committee
about what science results have come from the telescope, nor what the
oversubscription rate is at each institution.

  There was some discussion of how we should quantify or assess
the science usefulness of the telescope from the point of view of the
different institutions; this is very much needed to be passed onto the

  So each of the user's committee members will send Ed Turner a brief
writeup (by Fridaym November 16), describing what each of the
institutions is up to scientifically, and what their major concerns

  We then went around the table, having each of the people give these
summaries off the cuff.  (Note that the following does not include
input from the JHU community, as their representative was absent from
the meeting).  Some of the common themes were: 

  -People have settled down into routine observing.  There is a lot of
desire for new instruments, and many are eagerly waiting for the DIS

  -At many institutions, it is a fairly small group of people who use
the telescope most heavily.
  -At some institutions, the oversubscription rate has dropped
somewhat; people are waiting for the DIS upgrade, at which point the
rate should go up.  There is also a lot of eagerness to use the
Colorado near-IR instrument.  At other institutions, such as
Princeton, the oversubscription rate has increased. 

  -There is concern about the throughput of the Echelle; it apparently
has similar performance to the KPNO 4m echelle, but some people were
hoping for somewhat better.  In any case, we would like to see the
latest numbers on the measured throughput of the instrument.

  Instrument usage: Over the last year (October 2000-September 2001),
DIS usage has jumped to 48%, up from 35% last year.  SPICAM use has
dropped from 29% to 14%, and GRIM and Echelle have stayed close to
constant at of order 15% each.  Visitor instruments have stayed steady
at 8%.  

  Areas of concern: Staff retention has been a serious concern in the
past, but we've had full staff for some time, and no turnover for the
past year. 
  With limited finances and limited human resources, fixing problems
with the telescope has gone somewhat slower than we had hoped.  We've
done a better job now of focussing our attention on a relatively small
number of projects (a luxury we now have that we're not working in
crisis mode, responding to various emergencies). 
  We've long felt that remote observing is not as efficient as we
might hope.  An issue is access to the telescope in the late afternoon
for setups, etc.  With our full complement of staff, it is perhaps
time to clarify yet again observatory rules about afternoon access. 

  Publications based on 3.5m data: we're still compiling statistics,
but it appears that this year will have more publications than last. 
Several PhD theses have come out over the last year.

  The DIS upgrade, originally scheduled for the bright time at the end
of October, has been delayed by unexpectedly high readout noise in the
DIS electronics.  The source of this noise has been identified; when
the science-grade chip was put in to replace the engineering chip, the
noise dropped precipitously.  This improvement was also due in part to
identifying and fixing a noise pickup problem in the electronics.
We're now getting 4 electrons read noise.  They are not quite getting
the full dynamic range of the chip (full-well-depth), but they think
they can fix this.  We hope that the blue side can go quite smoothly.
The hope is to plan on an installation two weeks after this
electronics work is done, probably in November or December. 

There are also now plans to upgrade the DIS optics, perhaps during
next year's summer shutdown.  This will improve the plate
scale, and also improve the UV throughput.  (Unfortunately, this will
not completely solve the UV throughput problem, which is due to
several different optical elements within DIS).  

There is a prototype version now finished of a new observing program,
modeled after REMARK, but written in Python, which is runnable on
multiple platforms.  Keep your eyes open over the next several months
for this; it should replace REMARK on the timescale of a year or so. 
Russ Owen and Craig Loomis are the authors of this software. 

Last night (November 11), the telescope saw 0.5" seeing in r.  That's

  Minutes of last meeting approved. 

  The next meeting will be held December 17, 2001, at 11:30 AM East
Coast time. 

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