Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech

A phone call out of the blue; $500,000 – no strings attached

Astronomer Oliver Guyon works on his hand made telescope in his home’s garage, Sept. 17, 2012 in Hilo. (Photo by Marco Garcia | Getty Images for Home Front Communications)

Hawaii 24/7 Staff

A physicist/astronomer who splits his time between the Big Island’s Subaru Telescope and the University of Arizona has received a $500,000 fellowship to continue his search for Earth-like planets.

Olivier Guyon is one of 23 MacArthur Fellows for 2012. Working across a broad spectrum of endeavors, the Fellows include a pediatric neurosurgeon, a marine ecologist, a journalist, a photographer, an optical physicist and astronomer, a stringed-instrument bow maker, a geochemist, a fiction writer, and an arts entrepreneur.

All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

The recipients learned, through a phone call out of the blue from the Foundation, that they will each receive $500,000 in no-strings-attached support over the next five years.

MacArthur Fellowships come without stipulations or reporting requirements and offer Fellows unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.

The unusual level of independence afforded to Fellows underscores the spirit of freedom intrinsic to creative endeavors. The work of MacArthur Fellows knows neither boundaries nor the constraints of age, place, and endeavor.

“These extraordinary individuals demonstrate the power of creativity,” said MacArthur President Robert Gallucci. “The MacArthur Fellowship is not only a recognition of their impressive past accomplishments but also, more importantly, an investment in their potential for the future. We believe in their creative instincts and hope the freedom the Fellowship provides will enable them to pursue unfettered their insights and ideas for the benefit of the world.”

Guyon is a physicist who uses his expertise in optics to design telescopes that investigate some of the most compelling issues in contemporary astronomy, particularly the search for Earth-like planets outside the solar system.

From our perspective, extrasolar planets (exoplanets) appear to orbit extremely close to their home stars but are 10 orders of magnitude less bright; the ability to visualize exoplanets with conventional coronagraphs (which block light coming directly from a star) is a function of a telescope’s mirror diameter times four.

Guyon invented an alternative coronagraphy method, Phase-Induced Amplitude Apodization (PIAA), which could reduce by nearly half the necessary instrument mirror diameter. This design significantly reduces the engineering and cost obstacles to deploying a planet-locating telescope in low-Earth orbit.

Subsequently, Guyon identified the theoretical limit on the performance of such instruments; based on this analysis and related computational models, he compared the expected performance of several methods currently in use or under development, identifying their relative strengths and shortcomings.

Currently, he is working to optimize the performance of ground-based PIAA instruments and their variants. Guyon has also made important contributions to other aspects of instrumentation, such as adaptive optics and low-cost, lightweight telescopes for amateurs.

He is developing a diffraction-based technique for measuring tiny shifts in the position of stars against the stellar background due to the gravitational influence of orbiting planets, which could provide a powerful complement to existing exoplanet detection methods.

In all aspects of his work, from theoretical calculations to laboratory fabrication, Guyon relentlessly tests and pushes boundaries to construct instruments that are key to one of the great scientific adventures of our time—searching the galaxy for other planets like our own.

Guyon received a Licence (2000) from Ecole Normale Superieure and a Ph.D. from Universite Pierre et Marie Curie (2002).

In addition to serving as an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy and the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona since 2008, he is also an associate member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Victoria and a project scientist at the Subaru Telescope, National Observatory of Japan, in Hawaii.

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