W. M. Keck Observatory


Under the general supervision of the Chief of Technical Development, this position leads and supports efforts in the development and optimization of the Keck Adaptive Optics (AO) Systems; from initial requirements and concepts to astrophysical results.

Essential Functions

  • Play a lead role in the design, development, characterization, optimization and commissioning of new AO capabilities and their handover to operations. Lead roles would be at the level of principal investigator, project manager or systems engineer; incumbent will need to be at this level or develop to this level.
  • Play a lead role in the characterization, optimization and improvement of the operational AO systems.
  • Help guide the continued development of the Observatory's high angular resolution capabilities. In particular, play a lead role in identifying, assessing, proposing and developing requirements for new AO capabilities and techniques for improved performance and/or new science capabilities. As part of this process, understand the user community needs and ensure they are addressed.
  • Document new AO capabilities and performance to support operations and development.
  • Play a lead role in the preparation for and performance of engineering observing runs, in order to efficiently and effectively carry out the nighttime engineering observing programs.
  • Conduct adaptive optics research to further the Keck high angular resolution capabilities, performance or productivity, and to stimulate research at Keck Observatory.

Additional Responsibilities

  • Perform other duties consistent with the scope of the position.

Required Qualifications

  • Ph.D. level degree in adaptive optics or high angular resolution astronomy, or equivalent experience.
  • Outstanding candidates who expect to complete their Ph.D. shortly are also eligible to apply and should indicate their expected completion date on their cover letter.
  • 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 adaptive optics systems.
  • Experience in data visualization and analysis.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Proven track record in the development or optimization of adaptive optics systems for astronomy.
  • Demonstrated leadership skills.              
  • Optical design and engineering experience.
  • Mechanical design and engineering experience.
  • Controls design and engineering experience.
  • Experience in the development of the high level software needed to operate and optimize adaptive optics systems.
  • Previous experience in an observatory setting


  • Microsoft Office Proficiency.
  • Ability to manage multiple tasks and priorities.
  • Ability to develop an expert level knowledge of the Keck AO systems.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team.

Certificates and Licenses

  • Valid driver's license and clean abstract.


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

  • Leadership: Professional; dependable; highly competent and perceived as such. Consultative but capable of being decisive when required. Ability to balance people needs with business needs.
  • Communications: Ability to communicate effectively and concisely at all levels and across multiple technical disciplines. Ability to communicate effectively with vendors and contractors to ensure timely resolution of issues.
  • Interpersonal skills: Ability to build collaborative, effective relationships with staff: within the project and with group managers throughout organization. Able to build collaborative relationships with key vendors.
  • Commitment: High energy level; long-term commitment to success of project; ability to be successful under pressure; adaptable to changing circumstances; able to accommodate multiple simultaneous demands.

Other Requirements

  • Ability to work in a constant state of alertness and in a safe manner.
  • 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 occasionally work nights and weekends.

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.

  • Sit: Remaining in the seated position continuously.
  • Use Hands/Fingers: Picking, pinching, or otherwise working primarily with fingers rather than with the whole hand or arm as in handling.
  • Talk: 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.
  • Lift: Raising or lowering an object from one level to another (includes upward pulling) up to 25 lbs.
  • 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.

Environmental Conditions

These environmental conditions are representative of what an employee will encounter while performing the essential functions of the job. This is not a complete list of the environmental conditions that may be encountered.

  • Exposure to weather: Subject to extreme cold.  Temperatures can be below 32 degrees for periods of more than one hour.  Consideration should be given to the effect of other environmental conditions such as wind and humidity.
  • Subject to Hazards: Moving mechanical parts.
  • Subject to constrained spaces: Required to function in narrow aisles or passageways.

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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