Universidad de Chile/CATA and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan sign agreement to build state-of-the-art equipment for ALMA

The document outlines, within a two-year horizon, the construction of new and revolutionary receivers for the largest radio telescope on Earth. It also includes a chapter on scientific exchange and technology transfer.

The document establishes the production of Band 2 lenses for the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) radio telescope, equipment that will investigate areas such as star formation, proto-planetary disks and molecular clouds (just to mention a few). The text becomes the natural continuation of a long collaboration between these organizations that spans decades and where the CATA Astrophysics Center has been a crucial piece, since it has co-financed the hiring of material and human resources in the Millimeter Wave Laboratory, located in the Department of Astronomy, in Cerro Calán (Las Condes).

Francisco Martínez, dean of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Mathematics (FCFM-U. de Chile) says that this agreement generates “great optimism and expectations, because in the first place it prolongs and enlarges a relationship that we have already had. A relationship based on trust, experience, knowledge and joint work. And secondly, it is oriented towards the development of high-level technology, of international relevance, which adds to the prestige of astronomy and therefore expands the capabilities of this science in our country”, he said.James Macphee, President of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Technology Transfer (UNTEC) of the University of Chile, said that the agreement is “a concrete materialization of technology transfer, where very specific knowledge is put at the service of the design and manufacture of high precision elements. UNTEC’s participation in this alliance has been fundamental to make many of the project’s activities visible. By facilitating this joint NAOJ-UNTEC-University work, we are simultaneously making visible other less tangible benefits, such as the training of people through internships and other links”.

Hemos caminado juntos 

El Centro Nacional de Investigación Astronómica de Japón, cuenta con algunas de  las instalaciones de observación más avanzadas del mundo. Su objetivo es promover el desarrollo de la astronomía, la astrofísica y los campos relacionados de la ciencia a nivel global. NAOJ ha tenido presencia en Chile a través de la construcción y funcionamiento del Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), un radiotelescopio gigante situado en el altiplano de Atacama, a 5.000 mil metros sobre el nivel del mar. Además, NAOJ opera el Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE), un radiotelescopio submilimétrico de 10 metros situado a 4.860 metros de altitud en el altiplano de Atacama.

El NAOJ-Chile se estableció en abril de 2012 con la misión de completar la construcción de ALMA y apoyar sus operaciones científicas para que ALMA produzca continuamente resultados científicos significativos. A partir del 2014 comenzaron los trabajos conjuntos entre Ricardo Finger y Alvaro González.

Leonardo Bronfman, profesor de astronomía del DAS, líder del Laboratorio de Ondas Milimétricas e investigador CATA ha sido un testigo privilegiado de la evolución histórica de la colaboración astronómica chileno-japonesa “Yo he podido ver este ‘caminar juntos’ a partir del año 1994, aunque todo esto venía de antes gracias al gran trabajo del profesor Jorge May, quien me antecedió. Por mi lado comenzamos formando un equipo para ayudar en la búsqueda de lugares donde instalar el precursor japonés del telescopio ALMA, que se llamaría LMSA. Y de ahí en adelante,  todo ha continuado muy bien”, concluye.

El acuerdo titulado: “For the Supply of Warm Lenses for the production of Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) Band 2 Receiver, fue firmado por Francisco Martínez, Decano de la Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas de la Universidad de Chile y Saku Tsuneta, director general de Observatorio Astronómico Nacional de Japón (NAOJ).


Long-term vision

“With this we extend the already existing collaboration between the National Observatory of Japan and the University of Chile and in some way demonstrate -once again- that we are capable of making technology at the highest international level”, explains Ricardo Finger, associate professor of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Chile and researcher at the CATA Astrophysics Center.

For Finger, this is not just any commercial agreement, “one of those where only parts and pieces are made and then sold. Half of this commitment is related to future collaboration projects, with contributions that are called ‘in-kind’ or ‘in-kind’, where Japan will finance academic visits, student visits, collaboration projects, joint equipment and all kinds of activities that will only make the department and the university stronger”, he adds. This means that for the next three or four years, travel, students and collaboration will be funded.

Meanwhile, for Saku Tsuneta, general director of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), the agreement represents the realization of a long term work based on trust and respect: “We have a successful experience in delivering key components made in Chile, manufactured by the University of Chile, to the ALMA observatory. So this is an achievement of continuity. We (NAOJ), Chilean scientists and astronomers, want to improve and deepen this collaboration in the area of science and technology”, adding that “we consider that our joint work should not be limited to ALMA in Chile. It should be more than that. That’s why we are here.”

“These kinds of developments are very complex and very difficult. We have collaborated with the University of Chile – once again – because we have common interests and we have been able to take advantage of our strengths and make that our success,” comments Alvaro Gonzalez, ALMA-NAOJ project director.

Exchange programs

The Japanese counterpart has committed to fund a postdoctoral researcher for 3 years -at DAS- thus extending the collaboration in the field of observational astronomy. “The established funding will cover about four or five student visits to Japan, for several months each. These will be open to outstanding undergraduate or graduate students with an interest in astronomical instrumentation,” explains Finger.

Tsuneta adds that “Chilean astronomical science is growing rapidly. The number of articles is increasing rapidly. The quality of the articles is much better than it was ten years ago. We want to learn through this collaboration,” he says.

We have walked together

The National Astronomical Research Center of Japan has some of the most advanced observing facilities in the world. Its goal is to promote the development of astronomy, astrophysics and related fields of science globally. NAOJ has had a presence in Chile through the construction and operation of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a giant radio telescope located on the Atacama plateau, 5,000 thousand meters above sea level. In addition, NAOJ operates the Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE), a 10-meter submillimeter radio telescope located at 4,860 meters altitude on the Atacama Plateau.

NAOJ-Chile was established in April 2012 with the mission to complete the construction of ALMA and support its scientific operations so that ALMA will continuously produce significant scientific results. Joint work between Ricardo Finger and Alvaro Gonzalez began in 2014.

Leonardo Bronfman, professor of astronomy at DAS, leader of the Millimeter Wave Laboratory and CATA researcher has been a privileged witness of the historical evolution of the Chilean-Japanese astronomical collaboration “I have been able to see this ‘walking together’ since 1994, although all this came before thanks to the great work of Professor Jorge May, who preceded me. For my part, we began by forming a team to help in the search for places to install the Japanese precursor of the ALMA telescope, which would be called LMSA. And from then on, everything went very well,” he concludes.

The agreement entitled: “For the Supply of Warm Lenses for the production of Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) Band 2 Receiver, was signed by Francisco Martínez, Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the Universidad de Chile and Saku Tsuneta, Director General of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).


Main photo from left to right:

Lorena Toro, Secretary of Head of NAOJ Chile; Teruyuki Watanabe, Head (Legal Rep) of NAOJ Chile; Alvaro González, Director of ALMA Project of NAOJ; Viviana Meruane, Director of Research and Academic Affairs FCFM; Saku Tsuneta, Director General of NAOJ; Francisco Martínez, Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences; James McPhee, Chairman of the Board of the Fundación para la Transferencia Tecnológica (UNTEC); Ricardo Finger, responsible for the Millimeter-wave laboratory (MWL), Leonardo Bronfman, responsible for the Millimeter-wave laboratory (MWL) and Ricardo Muñoz, Director of the Department of Astronomy of the Universidad de Chile.