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Women’s Hall of Fame Welcomes Poyneer

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LIVERMORE, Calif., April 29, 2010 — Lisa Poyneer has been inducted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame for her work in adaptive optics and the development of the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), which will be the world’s most powerful astronomical adaptive optics instrument.

Poyneer is said to be one of the most promising scientists/engineers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). A signal processing and adaptive optics engineer, Poyneer was instrumental in the development of GPI, which will be completed in early 2011.

Lisa Poyneer adjusts the mirrors used in a tabletop adaptive optics system. (Image: Bob Hirschfeld/LLNL)

Adaptive optics clears the blurring effects of turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere when viewing stars. It corrects the wavefronts of light so that stars, galaxies and other celestial objects gain resolution and contrast.

Nearly all of the extrasolar planets that have been discovered so far have been found indirectly (e.g., by the Doppler “wobble” of the star’s light as the planet orbits it). But GPI – or “gee-pie,” as the telescope is called – will survey thousands of stars and take direct images of hundreds of planets.

GPI’s spectroscopic analysis of the light from these planets will allow astronomers to determine what extrasolar planets are made of (i.e., what chemicals are in their atmospheres) and refine theories of how they have formed.

Taking images of planets orbiting around other stars is an incredibly challenging task; Poyneer’s groundbreaking research was essential in winning the $24 million contract for the LLNL-led international team that is building the instrument. GPI’s adaptive optics system, using algorithms developed by Poyneer, will provide up to 100 times better performance than current systems.

She joins seven other current or past LLNL employees to be selected for the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame.

They include: Gina Bonanno, National Ignition Facility program manager; Pam Hullinger, LLNL’s chief veterinary officer; Dona Crawford, associate director for computation; Hope Ishii, a physicist in the lab’s Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics; Tammy Jernigan, Weapons and Complex Integration Principal Directorate chief of staff; Ellen Raber, leader of the Response and Recovery Program within the Global Security Principal Directorate; and Claire Max, now a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

Poyneer is an internationally recognized expert in her field, giving invited talks at conferences and publishing widely. Her work will directly enable a new era in the study of extrasolar planets, in which astronomers take pictures of other worlds and can determine what they are made of.

Poyneer received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she also won awards as the top female student and top engineering student. She is a 1999 Rhodes Scholar. She joined LLNL in 2001.

Poyneer is also a strong supporter of scientific education. She regularly lectures on adaptive optics to college students and has been an instructor for youth at Expanding Your Horizons.

For more information, visit:
Apr 2010
adaptive optics
Optical components or assemblies whose performance is monitored and controlled so as to compensate for aberrations, static or dynamic perturbations such as thermal, mechanical and acoustical disturbances, or to adapt to changing conditions, needs or missions. The most familiar example is the "rubber mirror,'' whose surface shape, and thus reflective qualities, can be controlled by electromechanical means. See also active optics; phase conjugation.
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
An afocal optical device made up of lenses or mirrors, usually with a magnification greater than unity, that renders distant objects more distinct, by enlarging their images on the retina.
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