HomeScienceMaking a Camera for the James Webb Space Telescope

Making a Camera for the James Webb Space Telescope

This interview is a part of our newest Girls and Management particular report, which highlights girls making vital contributions to the most important tales unfolding on this planet at this time. The dialog has been edited and condensed.


Marcia J. Rieke, 70, is the analysis group chief for the near-infrared digital camera, or NIRCam, on the James Webb House Telescope, a $10 billion effort to discover the far reaches of the universe.

As principal investigator, you had been answerable for designing and constructing the NIRCam, and now it’s your job to verify it’ll work virtually one million miles from Earth. How nerve-racking is that?

Being answerable for an instrument like NIRCam is sort of a repeated curler coaster experience. There’s the excessive level when you will have the enjoyment of seeing issues work as you had hoped. There’s a low level, particularly early on, when one thing breaks and the design must be modified. After which there’s ready for the following experience, comparable to launch. In fact, the very best factors will likely be when incredible information are gathered, nice papers are written concerning the discoveries and the youthful individuals on the workforce get nice jobs.

How did you’re feeling when the satellite tv for pc was safely launched? What was it wish to study that its mirrors, warmth shields and different elements unfolded and locked into place with no hitch?

Watching a rocket launch on Christmas morning was fairly a novel expertise. Studying that the launch was excellent when it comes to route, velocity and gasoline consumption was icing on the cake. Nonetheless, having all of the deployments go so easily after many doubted that this could possibly be performed justified my religion and belief within the fabulous Webb workforce.

NIRCam has the potential to seize gentle emitted simply after the Large Bang, practically 14 billion years in the past, that’s solely now reaching our galaxy. You’ve now seen some photos. How did it really feel?

We’ve gotten the primary photos and we’re tremendous pleased. Your entire Webb workforce is ecstatic at how effectively the primary steps of taking photos and aligning the telescope are continuing.

How did you surmount the engineering and operational hurdles in designing and constructing the NIRCam?

I had quite a lot of assist in sketching out the preliminary design that we turned in with our authentic proposal. After which the engineers at Lockheed had been excellent at developing with a technique to assemble NIRCam at room temperature however have it meet the entire demanding necessities when it’s chilly.

When did the astronomy bug chunk you?

As a child, I learn astronomy and science fiction books from the general public library and have become enchanted with the thought of visiting different planets. Once I was in junior excessive, I labored as a babysitter and saved cash to purchase myself a telescope.

Is that what introduced you to M.I.T. from Midland, Mich.?

Once I went to M.I.T., I assumed I’d change into an astronaut. So I began out majoring in aeronautical engineering. However engineering, at the very least as portrayed within the freshman class that I took, wasn’t that thrilling.

So that you switched fields and went on to earn your Ph.D., additionally at M.I.T.?

I really was a physics scholar, however that’s one of many roots into astronomy.

This was within the late Sixties. How was it to be a girl in your discipline again then?

My coming into class was one of many first ones the place M.I.T. made an enormous push to get extra girls accepted. In my class, there have been one thing like 73 girls out of 1,000 incoming college students. That isn’t an enormous quantity, but it surely was rather a lot larger quantity than had been coming in earlier than.

Have been school and different college students dismissive or accepting?

They had been pleased by and huge as a result of the institute was making an effort to get extra girls. We had been fairly effectively accepted. The one M.I.T. class the place I used to be the one girl was a Western civilization class, and I acquired fairly irritated typically with the professor as a result of he would name on me to elucidate girls’s worldviews. I’m one individual, I’m not all girls.

Do you assume girls deliver a special set of perceptions to astronomy?

I’ve sensed over time that completely different individuals come to conclusions by following completely different paths, and that’s one motive it’s good to have range.

What recommendation was most useful in your profession?

Individuals must do one thing they love doing. Discover your ardour and go for that.

The rest?

Within the scientific discipline proper now, for those who apply for time on a telescope otherwise you write a proposal to get funding, the competitors is admittedly extreme. I attempt to encourage younger people not to surrender. Maintain making an attempt; you’ll get there.

How would you advise younger girls at this time who wish to pursue a profession like yours?

Virtually all Ph.D.-granting analysis establishments have applications to encourage girls in STEM; for those who’re nervous or hesitant, search out locations the place you will get recommendation and help. I used to be a fairly impartial character, however I do know some individuals are not fairly so assured of their skills. Should you’re not feeling assured, discover girls to speak to. That’ll make you’re feeling higher and maintain you going.

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