Astronomer Claire Max appointed director of UC Observatories

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Claire Max
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Max, shown here with Lick Observatory's Shane Telescope, pioneered the laser guide star technology first implemented at Lick and subsequently at the W. M. Keck Observatory and other major telescopes. (Photo copyright Laurie Hatch)

UC President Janet Napolitano has appointed Claire Max, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, as director of UC Observatories, a multi-campus research unit that serves eight UC campuses.

A distinguished scientist, Max has been serving as interim director of UCO since June 2014.

“I am thrilled to be named the new director of UC Observatories, where I will be able to support the vital research and scientific aspirations of the UC astronomy community,” said Max. “I look forward with great pleasure to working with my fellow astronomers, the UC Office of the President, and the broader UC community to develop and implement a shared vision for UC Observatories.”

Max has been appointed to a five-year term beginning retroactively on July 1, 2015, and extending through June 30, 2020. She previously worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and in 2001 joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz, where she co-founded and led the Center for Adaptive Optics. Max is best known for her contributions to laser guide star adaptive optics, a technology that removes the blurring effects of turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere.

“UC Observatories are an important part of the university’s research enterprise and provide our faculty and graduate students with opportunities to make great strides in astronomy and astrophysics,” said President Napolitano. “As a UC faculty member, practicing astronomer, and respected researcher, Dr. Max understands the needs and the enormous potential of UC Observatories. She will provide excellent leadership as this program continues to chart its future.”

Lick, Keck, and TMT

UC Santa Cruz serves as the host campus for UCO, which operates the Lick Observatory as well as technical labs at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz. UCO also provides administrative and scientific support for UC’s partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and is the central coordinator for the UC participation in the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

“The UC Santa Cruz campus is proud to host UC Observatories, and we are thrilled that such a distinguished and able UCSC faculty member has been appointed to lead this prestigious program,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal. “As a fellow astronomer, I look forward to working with Dr. Max to ensure a thriving future for UC Observatories.”

Max is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the SPIE International Society for Optics and Photonics. She has received numerous awards, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s E. O. Lawrence Award in Physics in 2004 and, most recently, the 2015 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation from the American Astronomical Society.

Max was selected as UCO director after an international search chaired by UC San Diego Professor Emeritus Charles Kennel and conducted by a committee of experienced astronomers and administrators from UC campuses, UC-affiliated national laboratories, and other national and international institutions. The search process included consultations with UC Academic Senate leaders and chancellors at UC’s astronomy campuses, which include Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. Additional input was solicited from faculty and staff at UC’s astronomy campuses and others throughout the UC community.