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Fraser Clarke

Researcher / Systems Engineer

I work in the optical/near-IR instrumentation group building instruments for telescopes. My main focus is the HARMONI integral field spectrograph for the future 39m European Extremely Large Telescope, for which I am the lead Systems Engineer. I provide on-going support for the SWIFT integral field spectrograph at the Palomar 200-inch telescope, which was built in Oxford from 2004-2008. I also look after the Philip Wetton telescope here in Oxford.

I supervise 4th year MPhys projects using the Philip Wetton telescope here in Oxford. Over the years we've run several very successful projects on the telescope. I try to bring new projects along every few years to, and recent examples are;

  • Measuring the expansion of the Universe with Supernovae
  • Measuring the physical structure of Extra-Solar Planets.
  • WISP : Building a fibre fed spectrograph for the Philip Wetton Telescope

I also regularly take summer students/interns to work on small instrumentation projects.

Please contact me if you are interested in either of the above.

When I'm not building instruments, I sometimes do reasearch on brown dwarfs and extra-solar planets... sometimes...

My main public talk at present is about the history and future of large telescopes, focusing on the 39m European Extremely Large Telescope which is currently under development (abstract below). I'm always happy to visit astronomical/science societies within a a few hours travel of Oxford. I've recently talked at;

  • Bromsgrove Astronomical Society (August 2014)
  • Knowle Astronomical Society (April 2014)
  • Green-Templeton College (February 2014)
  • Chipping Norton Amateur Astronomy Group (April 2012)
  • Newbury Astronomical Society (November 2011)
  • Oxford University Student Astronomical Society (October 2010)
  • Institute of Physics, Worcester (May 2010)
  • Oxford Continuing Education Astronomy Weekend (April 2010)
  • Abingdon Astronomical Society (February 2010)

Big Telescopes ; Why Size Has Always Mattered
Dr Fraser Clarke (University of Oxford)

Astrophysics is fundamentally an observation driven science, where each new technological step allowing us to see further, fainter and in finer detail has answered numerous questions, and posed innumerably more. Building bigger and bigger telescopes has therefore been central to our understanding of the Universe for over 400 years. In this talk, I will review the history of large telescopes through ages, including the key technologies behind them from silvered glass to adaptive optics. I will explain how this has led us to the cusp of a new era of "Extremely Large" telescopes, and in particular look at the largest of these; the 39 meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), in which the UK is playing a central role. With its combination of huge light collecting area and advanced instrumentation, it will take images 15x sharper than the Hubble space telescope, characterise the atmospheres of planets around other stars, and be sensitive enough to study galaxies at the very edge of the visible Universe. Who knows what new questions it will raise!