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Modern astrophysics is currently in a Golden Era propelled by discoveries and new open questions that rely on large scale sophisticated infrastructures. These large infrastructures are built by international organizations joining many countries. Examples of these organizations are the European Southern Observatory (ESO) , the European Space Agency (ESA)  or the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) .

The SIM team operates in the highly international environment of these infrastructures. Our activities include instrument building, data analysis and processing and scientific exploitation. We have expertise in superconducting detectors, optical/near-infrared cryogenic instrumentation development, image and data processing and galactic astrophysics. We also host the Portuguese VLTI Expertise Centre.

With this unique combination of expertises we participate in many vibrant quests, ranging from instrumentation and data processing research and development to fundamental science.

Highlights of the work conducted by our team are:

CLOUD experiment at CERN - This experiment addresses the question: “Could there be a link between galactic cosmic rays and cloud formation?” Our team participates in the experiment data acquisition system and in the UV illumination system. Several publications resulted from this experiment including 2 Nature papers (2011, 2013) and 1 Science paper (2014).

GRAVITY instrument for ESO - This instrument aims at answering the open question: “What is happening at the Schwarzschild radius of the Galactic Centre Supermassive BH?” The small scales involved require the use of optical interferometry and phase referenced astrometry. Our team is responsible by the Acquisition Camera subsystem, including the data analysis and parameter estimation software. We are working this instrument since 2009. The first light of Gravity at the ESO Paranal observatory is planned for 2015. Our activities are currently evolving towards the instrument scientific exploitation.

Gaia satellite for ESA - This astrometric satellite was launched in 2013 and had first light in 2014. The satellite will answer the question: “What is the 3D structure and dynamics of the Milky way?”. We coordinate the Portuguese participation in Gaia, which takes place in the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium. We develop novel 4D visualization techniques (3D + time) and data classification algorithms. Once the Gaia data is available we’ll use it to understand more about the galactic structure and its stellar clusters.


METIS instrument for the ELT METIS is one of the three first instruments for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), and of those the only with a Portuguese participation, led by our team. Covering the L, M and N bands, METIS will offer imaging, coronagraphy and medium-resolution spectroscopy over the full wavelength range (3-19 microns), and high-resolution integral field spectroscopy in L and M bands (3-5 microns).

Instrumentation research and development. New infrastructures require significant breakthroughs in instrumentation that can only be achieved with dedicated research programmes. Our team conducts instrumentation research in several areas. One example is the application of photonics devices to astrophysical instrumentation, so called astrophotonics. Another example is Adaptive optics. It is an enabling technology for the Extremely Large Telescopes. Its aim is to overcome the image resolution degradation by the atmospheric turbulence. Multi-conjugate adaptive optics corrects the degradation over large fields of view. We developed the imaging camera (CAMCAO) of the ESO/MAD instrument. MAD was the first instrument testing on sky multi-conjugate adaptive optics and had its first light in 2007. Our present adaptive optics activities are being developed in part in the OPTICON FP7 integrated activity. We are focusing on signal processing and optimal photometry/astrometry extraction. Another technology is optical interferometry; it combines several telescopes to probe the smallest scales of the universe. We research the ability of this technology to create images of astrophysical objects by making use of sophisticated data processing algorithms. This work is conducted in part within the OPTICON FP7 integrated activity. Machines operating is space have stringent constrains. The MAGDRIVE FP7/SPACE project aimed at developing magnetic-superconductor cryogenic non-contact harmonic drive. Our team built the cryogenic facility where the drive operated.

Galactic astrophysics The astrophysicists in our team work on galactic astrophysics ranging from galactic structure, stellar clusters and forming stars in the galaxy. We make use of state-of-the-art observations, mainly from the European Southern Observatory telescopes. In particular we use data from instruments in which our team participated. This was the case for MAD. We are currently planning to use Gaia, GRAVITY observations to study these structures and objects.

If you are a student wishing to do a PhD, MSc or internship in our team; or a PhD searching for a Postdoc; or a company interested in a partnership please contact Paulo Garcia for further information.