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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 23, 2002

Adaptive optics at UH wins award

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A retired University of Hawai'i astronomer who pioneered techniques for seeing clearly through Earth's fuzzy atmosphere has won a major astronomy award.

Francois Roddier received the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award for his theoretical and practical work in adaptive optics.

Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the University of Hawai'i's Institute for Astronomy, said Roddier pioneered adaptive optics theory and, with a team of fellow astronomers, built instruments used on telescopes to dispel the blurring caused by the atmosphere.

Because of the work by Roddier and his colleagues, Earth-bound telescopes are able to achieve clarity that is sometimes as great as that of the Hubble Space Telescope, which avoids the problem by being beyond the atmosphere.

"Adaptive optics is a revolutionary technique that allows ground-based optical/infrared telescopes ... to see the stars almost as if the Earth had no atmosphere," said UH planetary astronomer Tobias Owen.

Roddier and his wife, Claude Roddier, headed the university's Adaptive Optics Group, and instruments they helped design are now used on several of the major telescopes atop Mauna Kea.

The instruments work when light from the primary mirror of the telescope is reflected off a small flexible mirror whose shape can be distorted by applying voltages to electrodes. A curvature sensor constantly measures the deviations in the incoming light waves, and a computer rapidly calculates how to counteract these variations and adjusts the shape of the flexible mirror several hundred times a second.

The Roddiers retired in December 2000 and moved to France.

The award for achievement in astronomy technology was established in 1983 by the Muhlmanns, amateur astronomers who lived in Kailua on the Big Island.