Dear ASAP Member,
The NAIC Arecibo Managing Partners (AMP) has now been in full charge of the Observatory since October 1 last year. They clearly have had their work cut out for them, and the ASAP Board has tried to follow events and progress especially closely during this period. Indeed, this management transition seems to have been unparalleled even in NSF experience, both in terms of the three-partner structure and the need to restructure so much to conform the AMP procedures and business protocols after almost five decades of Cornell administration.
Overall, the ASAP Board believes that the transition has been successful. Proposal and scheduling cycles have proceeded seamlessly for the users, though changes in these procedures are forthcoming, as discussed below. It is a great benefit to the facility that most staff, apart from a few retirements, have been able to remain in the employment of the Observatory. Though we do not know the details, AMP has been working on benefits packages and has been trying to make them as consistent as possible for those employed by each of the partners. We were happy to learn that the long hiatus on hiring new AO staff is now at an end, and in particular Prakash Atreya has joined the NAIC Computer Department to fill the long vacant telescope systems specialist position.
NSF AST Portfolio Review (PR). The Cornell flag had hardly been lowered when NSF Astronomy announced its new "Portfolio Review" of NSF AST facilities, and the ASAP Board was asked to prepare scientific "white papers" for submission to the PR. Ten "white papers" were prepared by different Board members over the turn of the year and submitted by the January 31 deadline. The ASAP board, with the rest of the astronomical community, is awaiting the release of the Portfolio Review report and the response from NSF-AST later this year. We believe that advocacy for high-quality science remains important in this and any community review process.
BREAKING NEWS: The NSF AST Portfolio Report has just been released, and AO seems to have come off relatively well. The ASAP Board is meeting this week in an emergency session to assess the import of the Report and formulate its responses. Another Member Newsletter with the PR as its major subject will be coming shortly.
NAIC Science and Management Committee (SMAC). In February, NAIC Director Bob Kerr requested that ASAP nominate two candidates to the new NAIC SMAC —the AMP’s replacement for the old Visiting Committee—and that one be an astronomer and the other an atmospheric scientist. The ASAP Board determined that SMAC nominees should be ASAP Board members, either as current Board members or by election to the Board. The Bylaws were then revised to reflect this decision and experienced nominees sought urgently to comply with Kerr’s tight schedule for forming the SMAC. Fortunately, both Frank Djuth and David Nice agreed to be nominated to the SMAC, the latter by first being elected to the ASAP Board. As of Newsletter publication time the Board has heard nothing more on the SMAC appointments.
“Re-Inventing Arecibo” Workshop. The two-day meeting was held at the prestigious El Convento Hotel on the island of Old San Juan a stone’s throw from El Morro and near to the Puerto Rican Legislature and the Governor’s residence, La Forteleza. Deputy Director of NAIC, Juan Arratia of UMET (Universidad Metropolitana, an AMP partner) organized the meeting under the leadership and sponsorship of NSF AGM NAIC Program Manager Bob Robinson. The first day was well attended and surely was the most Puerto Rican event concerning the Observatory that any of us had ever attended. The highest official of the Puerto Rican government to attend was Victor Rivera Castro of PRIDCO (Puerto Rican Industrial Development Company). However, there was a substantial participation by PR university chancellors and others from island universities as well as participants from Spain and Latin America. Five ASAP Board members participated (Carlson, Mathews, Rankin, and Werthimer—as well as Rick Jenet who had recently cycled off the Board). The first day was opened by NSF AST Director Jim Ulvestad, Bob Robinson and Bob Kerr as well as UMET Chancellor Federico Matheu. Most of the first day talks that followed focused on AO’s strengths and contributions or on possible areas of collaboration in a variety of areas. John Mathews proposed putting AO at the center of a new institute he called PRIAS (PR Institute for Advanced Studies), that would award PhDs and that would have faculty and students distributed around the world. The first day ended with a panel discussion of PR university chancellors, who reported on their joint work through a number of meetings and committees to find ways to interact with and support the Observatory. The breaks and meals of the Workshop on the first day kept participants together in the hotel, so there was good opportunity to meet the other participants, a number for the first time. Unfortunately, there was limited AO staff participation. The second day was more focused on practical ideas for finding new revenue sources for the Observatory. Among these, however, were several people with strong ideas and many suggestions. These included those given by Kathy Olsen, formerly of the NSF, as well as Louis Duncan, now President of Rollins College. Olsen, Duncan, Mathews, and Rafael Rodrigo (AO visiting scholar) comprised the panel that closed the second day with open discussion on the various ideas raised by participants earlier. The third day gave the participants opportunity to visit the Observatory.
Overall, the meeting was pronounced a success by Bob Robinson although he expressed his disappointment that no one had come to the meeting with “pockets full of money”. The spirit of the meeting was positive and upbeat. Although new directions and revenue sources are needed to assemble a fully adequate level of support, at the same time it was clear that NAIC could and would be judicious so as to avoid undermining its fundamental capabilities and mission. There were no reports or undercurrents of leftover business from the transition to SRI management; rather, the implication was that the transition had largely been finished and finished reasonably well, such that the Workshop could now focus on future possibilities and needs. Appreciation to Cornell was expressed in strong terms at various points by Bob Kerr and other members of the new management team—that CU and Don Campbell in particular had been constructive and cooperative—so it seems that this area of potential awkwardness has also been negotiated successfully. In other news, we had the opportunity to meet the new NSF AST NAIC Program Manager, Eric Bloemhof. Zavin Arzoumanian also confirmed that he was stepping down as the AO Astronomy head and Fernando Camilo, then at Columbia University, would be phasing into the position over a four-month interval during which the responsibility will be shared.
AO Astronomy Head and Proposal System. Fernando Camilo has now assumed the Astronomy Directorship position and Zaven Arzoumanian has stepped down, with emails from both addressing the AO user community in early July. Of particular importance to ASAP members is Fernando’s call for “more regular and substantive communication” from the users. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to stay in communication, particularly when solicited for feedback on specific items; we should feel free to ask questions, but also be conscientious about answering queries.
Proposal reviewers and PIs of large ongoing proposals have already been contacted for their feedback on changes to the proposal system, and a general announcement has now been released (see attached) with the plan to redefine the proposal grades and to fold all proposals (large and small) into a common peer review, with proposals resubmitted every semester or every year. As a result, the Observatory will be seeking to expand and diversify the reviewer pool. ASAP members should consider nominating colleagues who would serve well in this capacity, for there may also soon be a call for reviewer nominations.
Other News. Arecibo is a crucial observatory to work on the overarching themes outlined in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Examples of ongoing Arecibo programs highlighted in the decadal survey include the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), a project with the potential to add to Arecibo’s unique heritage of conducting exquisite precision timing experiments to test the Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Time domain astronomy is another arena identified by the Decadal Survey where Arecibo’s capabilities offer a unique advantage. Looking to the future, surveys with the planned Arecibo 40-Beam Array would have unparalleled sensitivity and survey speed in mapping Galactic and extragalactic HI and should play a pivotal role in addressing some of the key questions identified in the Decadal Survey.
Arecibo is also planning to develop, or in the middle of developing, a myriad of new instruments and associated digital backends, including a new radar backend processor, Mark 5C VLBI data recorder, the PUPPI pulsar machine (commissioning is underway), a new wide band IF/LO distribution system, the 12 meter antenna and associated instrumentation, and two new wide band receivers and their backends.
ASAP Board Election. The ASAP Board is seeking nominations for new Board members. If you are interested in serving as a Board member, or would like to nominate an Arecibo- interested colleague, please send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org by the first week of September. Four three-year Board positions will be open.
ASAP membership recruitment. We take this opportunity to remind you that ASAP is influential in direct proportion to its body of members. At this promising and very challenging point for the Observatory, however, ASAP needs to increase its membership to about 250 colleagues to support its work. Building this new membership will now be much easier, because ASAP membership is now completely open to those interested in AO science—that is, theorists, users or appreciators. The Board has taken the position that renewed financial support will not be requested from existing members at this time, although such contributions are always welcome. However, the support of new members remains an essential source of funding for ASAP operation. Please then assist us in building the ASAP membership by approaching your own colleagues— especially those outside the immediate community of AO users—using the brochure as needed. If the current members were to bring in but one new member, ASAP would more than meet this crucial goal easily.
Finally, the Board wants to take this opportunity to encourage members to email us with suggestions, help build the membership or assist with ASAP's work in future. For instance, you may be an expert on aspects of AO's scientific excellence and uniqueness that are not now well described on the ASAP website; if so, please consider writing up a short piece (a "one-pager") for this purpose.
Sincere thanks from the ASAP Board for your absolutely essential support at members.
With best wishes to you and for a vital Arecibo future,
The ASAP Board