Fermilab Today Friday, March 26, 2010

New leaders named for dark energy experiment

John Peoples, director emeritus and former Dark Energy Survey project director, handed over the reins to DES collaborators Josh Frieman and Rick Kron.

An experiment that scientists hope will help them understand what is causing the acceleration of the universe is under new management. On March 15, Josh Frieman succeeded Fermilab Director Emeritus John Peoples as project director of the Dark Energy Survey. Rich Kron will serve as deputy director.

"It was long enough," said Peoples of his seven years leading the experiment. Peoples, a founding member of the DES collaboration, now has retired from three director roles at Fermilab. "I want to do more hands-on science again and I want a slightly simpler life," he said.

Plus, Peoples said, this is a natural time to step down. The experiment is currently under construction and collaborators plan to complete installation and commissioning by late 2011.

"Josh has been organizing, planning and getting the collaboration ready," Peoples said. "At this stage, we're looking for a scientist to lead, not a politician. There are 130 prepared minds out there working under Josh and getting ready for science."

The data from the experiment will provide scientists with four methods that they can use to determine the nature of the dark energy thought responsible for the acceleration of the universe. The survey experiment, which will use a very large digital camera mounted to a telescope in Chile, is the first of a new generation of projects that can help to address that question.  The Dark Energy Camera and its infrastructure are currently under construction at Fermilab. Other experiment components are being built elsewhere .

To help usher the collaboration into the next era, Frieman asked Kron, fellow DES collaborator and former Sloan Digital Sky Survey project director and spokesperson, to serve as his deputy director.

"Rich directed SDSS very successfully. He knows what it takes to get a project like this done," Frieman said.

Both Frieman and Kron hold joint appointments at the University of Chicago. Frieman is a founding member of the DES experiment, a former SDSS collaborator, and co-leader of SDSS's supernova search team.

Frieman cited the broad, distributed nature of this experiment as his and Kron's biggest challenge.

"We have to bring together all the different elements – the hardware, software, upgrades to the telescope, and the scientists, all of which have operated somewhat independently until now," he said.

To do that, Frieman said, they'll stay in close contact with the collaboration members. While they know that getting the experiment ready to take data won't be easy, they are excited about the prospect of taking real measurements to answer some of the most fundamental questions of the universe.

"In 2003, when the project began, the start of data-taking seemed a long way off," Frieman said. "But we’re now at the point where we can almost taste it."

-- Rhianna Wisniewski

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