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Is bigger always better? The quest for an Extremely Large Telescope


Prof. Richard de Grijs

2012 Selby Fellow, Australian Academy of Science;
Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University


Astronomy is in a golden age. In the past half century a new generation of telescopes and instruments allowed a golden age of remarkable new discoveries: quasars, black holes, gravitational arcs, planets orbiting other stars, gamma-ray bursts, the cosmic microwave background, dark matter and dark energy have all been discovered through the development of a succession of ever larger and more sophisticated telescopes. In the last decade, satellite observatories and the new generation of 8- to 10-metre diameter ground-based telescopes, have created a new view of our Universe, one dominated by poorly understood dark matter and a mysterious vacuum energy density. This progress poses new, and more fundamental, questions. As the current generation of telescopes continues to probe the Universe and challenge our understanding, the time has come to take the next step. A small step in telescope size will not progress these fundamental questions. Fortunately, preliminary studies indicate that the technology to achieve a quantum leap in telescope size is feasible. A telescope of 50 to 100-metre diameter can be built, and will provide astronomers with the ability to address the next generation of scientific questions: the "Extremely Large Telescope".


Richard de Grijs obtained his PhD from the University of Groningen (Netherlands) in 1997, and held two postdoctoral positions (at the University of Virginia, USA, and the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, UK), before being appointed to a permanent post at the University of Sheffield (UK) in 2003. He joined the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University in September 2009 as a full professor, where he was recently promoted to Associate Director. His research has moved from the structure and evolution of galaxies to topics related to the evolution and dynamics of dense, massive star clusters, and more recently to the astronomical distance scale. He is one of the scientific editors of The Astrophysical Journal (the leading professional journal in his field) and will take on the role of deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Astrophysical Journal (Letters) from September 2012. He was awarded the 2012 Selby Award for excellence in science by the Australian Academy of Science.