Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / Maunakea Observatories.)


Texas A&M University astronomer Jennifer Marshall has been selected as Project Scientist for the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) project, an 11.25-meter telescope being planned in Hawaii that's capable of studying up to 4,000 astronomical objects at once and positioned to lead the world in multi-object spectroscopy.

MSE is a proposed upgrade to the iconic 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) on the summit of Maunakea, a 4,200-meter dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii. It is expected to build on the knowledge and experience gained from CFHT's four decades of successful operation atop Maunakea and will feature a state-of-the-art observatory inspired by the latest technical advancements made by other top astronomical facilities around the world.

Texas A&M is an observer in MSE and the first United States academic institution within its international collaboration. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), which also is an observer, is the only other U.S. partner.

Marshall joined the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2010 as a research scientist and manager of the Charles R. '62 and Judith G. Munnerlyn Astronomical Laboratory. A member of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy and Texas A&M Astronomy Group, she earned promotion to assistant professor in 2015.

As the project scientist, Marshall will be responsible for leading MSE's scientific direction, from coordinating the international science team in developing the science case to working with the project's engineering team to ensure MSE's design is capable of achieving its target science goals. Beyond that, she also hopes to promote increased U.S. astronomy involvement in the project and to encourage continued positivie community relations on Hawaii Island -- an area she sees as an established CFHT strength.

In addition to Marshall, Texas A&M astronomers Darren DePoy, Casey Papovich, Louis Strigari and Kim-Vy Tran and Mitchell Postdoctoral Fellow in Astronomy Andrew Pace are among the 348-member MSE Science Team that supports all aspects of MSE science development. Tran also leads the Extragalactic Science Working Group, while DePoy along with Marshall is part of the Management Group representing all MSE participants and charged with responsibility for planning and directing the project's overall strategic direction.

"Jennifer's appointment testifies to the high regard in which she is held within the MSE project and on the international stage," said Robert C. Kennicutt Jr., a fellow Texas A&M astronomer and executive director of the Mitchell Institute. "This is a tremendously exciting project, and having one of its leaders at Texas A&M University strengthens our role in MSE and our influence on its development."

Marshall's scientific interests include exoplanets and the study of near-field cosmology -- specifically, using metal-poor stars found in the halo of the Milky Way Galaxy to better understand the formation mechanisms of the galaxy and broader universe. Most recently, she has focused on studying the detailed kinematics and chemistry of satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, particularly those that have been discovered through the Dark Energy Survey (DES).

Beyond an impressive record of scientific discoveries, Marshall is well known for her work on astronomical instrumentation. She led Texas A&M's involvement in DES, producing the calibration systems that enable the unprecedentedly precise photometric measurements produced by the survey, and also in the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), building the Visible Integral-field Replicable Unit Spectrograph (VIRUS). In addition to holding DES Builder status acknowledging a significant contribution to the project's construction, Marshall is the instrument scientist and co-principal investigator for GMACS, the wide field multi-object spectrograph that will be a first-light instrument for the Giant Magellan Telescope in which Texas A&M is a founding partner. She is an external collaborator in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and a member of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project.

Since 2012, Marshall has served as principal investigator and director of Texas A&M's annual National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program in Astronomical Research and Instrumentation that brings talented undergraduates from other universities to conduct scientific research with Texas A&M astronomers each summer. She also has planned and organized bi-weekly Mitchell Institute Star Parties and the annual Texas Astronomy Undergraduate Research Symposium at Texas A&M since 2011.

Marshall received her Ph.D. in astronomy from The Ohio State University in 2006 and was a Carnegie Fellow in Instrumentation at The Carnegie Observatories before coming to Texas A&M. She is a member of the American Physical Society, the American Astronomical Society and the Society for Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers.

To learn more about the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE), visit https://mse.cfht.hawaii.edu/.

For additional information about Marshall and her teaching, research and service efforts, go to https://physics.tamu.edu/people/jlm076/.

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Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Jennifer Marshall, (979) 862-2782 or marshall@physics.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Jennifer Marshall

  • Cutaway view of the planned MSE summit facility, showing the telescope within the new telescope enclosure. (Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / Maunakea Observatories.)

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