W. M. Keck Observatory

Under the general supervision of the Science Operations Lead, this position leads and supports efforts in the science operation of the Keck Adaptive Optics (AO) Systems; optimizing performance, efficiency, and reliability for the purpose of achieving astrophysical results.

Essential Functions

  • Play a lead role in the science operation of the AO systems ensuring peak performance, efficiency, and operability for use in astrophysical research in WMKO science operations.
  • Work with observing support and AO development teams in the commissioning of new AO capabilities and the handover to operations.
  • Work closely with the AO Operations Lead and team, AO instrument Masters, and AO development teams to set priorities for AO tasks, projects, upgrades, etc. while maintaining the integrity of the operational systems.
  • Work closely with the AO Operations Lead and Support Astronomers in the more advanced and comprehensive calibrations of the AO system.
  • Play a lead role in the characterization, optimization and improvement of the operational AO systems to maximize science productivity.
  • Understand the interactions between the AO system and the science instruments.
  • Stay informed on the evolving AO science cases and work with the AO development team on the continued improvement of the Observatory's high angular resolution capabilities.
  • Play a lead role in identifying, assessing, proposing, and developing improvement projects to the AO capabilities and techniques for optimum performance and/or new science capabilities. As part of this process, interface with the user community and understand their needs and ensure they are addressed.
  • Document new AO capabilities and performance to support operations and development.
  • Conduct education and training sessions with operational staff and AO observers for the purpose of improved operations and understanding of AO capabilities.
  • Play a lead role in the preparation and execution of engineering observing runs to efficiently and effectively use engineering time for performance tuning and for testing new capabilities.
  • Ability to occasionally work directly, hands-on, with the AO benches, AO instruments, and related subsystems at the summit, noting that the environment is at altitude in at cold temperatures.

Additional Responsibilities

  • Perform other duties consistent with the scope of the position.
  • Conduct adaptive optics research to further the Keck high angular resolution capabilities, performance or productivity, and to stimulate research at Keck Observatory. 

Required Qualifications

  • PhD level degree in adaptive optics or high angular resolution astronomy, or equivalent experience.
  • Three (3) years' of relevant experience in the development and/or use of adaptive optics for astronomical research.
  • Two (2) years' of work experience in instrumentation development or operations.
  • A broad understanding of the multiple engineering disciplines needed to develop and operate adaptive optics systems.
  • Experience in data visualization, spectral data reduction and analysis.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience and/or willingness to develop skills in software scripting, maintenance, development over various platforms and in various languages, IDL, Python, Matlab, c-shell, etc.
  • Proven track record in the development, commissioning, and optimization of adaptive optics systems for astronomy.
  • Demonstrated leadership skills.
  • Optical design and engineering expertise.
  • Mechanical design and engineering expertise.
  • Controls design and engineering expertise.
  • Expertise in the development of the high level software needed to operate and optimize adaptive optics systems.
  • Previous experience in an observatory setting.
  • Documentation of scientific results at the publications level


  •  Ability to manage multiple tasks and priorities.
  • Ability to develop an expert level knowledge of the Keck AO systems
  • Ability to develop an expert level knowledge of the Keck AO systems.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Strong written and oral English communication skills

Certificates and Licenses

  • Valid driver's license and clean abstract.


To perform the job successfully, an individual should demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Communication: Ability to communicate effectively and concisely at all levels.
  • Interpersonal skills: Ability to build collaborative, effective relationships with staff.
  • Professionalism: Approaches others in a tactful manner; reacts well under pressure; treats others with respect and consideration; accepts responsibility for own actions; follows through on commitments.

Other Requirements

  • Willingness to commit to WMKO core values: Safety, Integrity, Respect, Discovery and Service.
  • Willingness to commit to WMKO cultural values: Education/Learning, Communication, Teamwork, Rewarding Work Environment, Excellence, Community Involvement.
  • Willingness and ability to regularly work nights and weekends during science observations, with visiting scientist AO users, and during engineering observations to directly assess and improve the performance the AO systems .

Physical Demands

These physical demands are representative of the physical requirements necessary for an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of the job. This is not a complete list of the physical demands that may be required.

  • Sitting: Remaining in the seated position continuously.
  • Fingering: Picking, pinching, or otherwise working primarily with fingers rather than with the whole hand or arm as in handling.
  • Talking: Expressing or exchanging ideas by means of the spoken word to impart oral information to clients or to the public and to convey detailed spoken instructions to other workers accurately, loudly, or quickly.
  • Lifting: Raising or lowering an object from one level to another (includes upward pulling) 10-25 pounds.
  • Ability to pass a high altitude physical.
  • Ability to work at the Observatory (14,000 feet elevations).

Work Environment

This job operates in a professional office environment. This role may use standard office equipment such as computers, telephones, photocopiers, filing cabinets and fax machines.

The above information on this job description has been designed to indicate the general nature and level of work performed by an employee in this classification.  It is not to be interpreted as a comprehensive inventory, or all duties, responsibilities, and qualifications of employees assigned to this job.  Management has the right to add to, revise, or delete information in this description.  Reasonable accommodations will be made to enable qualified individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions of this position.

W. M. Keck Observatory
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