Instrumentation development allows for some of our faculty to take advantages of new technologies or techniques to obtain cutting-edge observations.

Research Highlights

Survey Science Data Facilities: DES and LSST

Top: Blanco Telescope Dome and Milky Way. Photo credit: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab.  Bottom: LSST conception, credit, Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation

The Dark Energy Survey (DES) is an on-going 5000 square degree survey of the Southern sky aimed at understanding the accelerating expansion rate of the universe using four complementary methods: weak gravitational lensing, galaxy cluster counts, baryon acoustic oscillations, and Type Ia supernovae. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will use an 8.4-meter telescope and 3-gigapixel camera to produce a wide-field astronomical survey of the universe that tracks its changes over time; in addition to probing the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter, LSST is designed to detect exploding supernovae, potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids, and distant Kuiper Belt Objects.

In both cases, Illinois is leading the science data facilities.  The Dark Energy Survey Data Management (DESDM) Project has been developed and operates at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at Illinois. This system processes and calibrates DES data into science-ready data products.  In addition, NCSA will be the Data Facility for the LSST project, processing, archiving, and serving the terabytes of data that will be collected every night of the decade-long survey. NCSA also will be responsible for all the computational power the project will require to handle such massive amounts of data, and will operate the LSST data centers.

Links to research groups and facilities: Robert GruendlFelipe MenanteauDESDM, DES, NCSA LSST, LSST

South Pole Telescope 

South Pole Telescope Lab
Students working on developing the next generation SPT instruments in the lab

A cosmic microwave background (CMB) experiment can be thought of as a condensed matter experiment to do ultrahigh energy physics. We use methods and techniques of materials science, electrical engineering, and low temperature physics to study physics at energy scales far beyond those attainable with terrestrial accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider. The group at U. Illinois plays an integral role in the third-generation camera for the South Pole Telescope (SPT-3G) and the planning for the next-generation CMB experiment called CMB Stage IV (CMB-S4). We work closely with the national labs to develop large arrays of superconducting detectors and the optics required to integrate the detectors with the telescope. The group at U. Illinois has pioneered the development and fabrication of advanced cryogenic optics for current and future CMB experiments.

Links to research groups and facilities: Joaquin Vieira, ObsCos Laboratory, South Pole Telescope



Far Infrared Field-Imaging Line Spectrometer on SOFIA


SOFIA is a Boeing 747 SP jet that flies up to 45,000 feet to escape the majority of the Earth’s water vapor so we can observe the in far-infrared. Illinois faculty have been involved in the optical design and construction of FIFI-LS (a far-infrared line spectrometer) and the cryogenic design and construction of a "air-coil" motor for the quarter wave plate of HAWC+ (a far-infrared polarimeter).

Links to research groups and facilities: Leslie LooneySOFIA, FIFI-LS, HAWC+


SPIDER Payload


SPIDER is an ambitious balloon-borne telescope designed to hunt for the faint echoes of primordial gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background (CMB).  Its thousands of superconducting detectors observe from near-space conditions aboard a NASA long duration balloon, 36 km above the Antarctic ice. The Illinois group is developing new receiver optics for SPIDER’s second science flight in 2018. Our team is also active in instrumentation development toward future ground-, balloon-, and space-based CMB instruments (BICEP Array, CMB-S4, BFORE, Inflation Probe), with special focus on superconducting detectors and readout electronics.

Links to research groups and facilities: Jeffrey Filippini, SPIDER

Faculty working in Instrumentation