NRC-Herzberg News


  December 2012   Edited by: Dennis Crabtree

The New NRC-Herzberg News E-Cass Report

This issue of NRC-Herzberg News takes on a new look as well as an update of the content. In changing the content, the goal is to provide the Canadian astronomical community with more information about the on-going activities at NRC-Herzberg. Each issue will contain brief updates about the broad areas in which we work (see below) as well as broader Herzberg News. Larger reports on specific projects will still be submitted as separate E‑Cass articles.


Feedback is welcome from community members about how NRC-Herzberg is doing in fulfilling our mandate to “operate and administer any astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada” (NRC Act).


Radio Astronomy

·         support for the radio observatories financed in whole or in part by the Government of Canada (ALMA, JCMT, DRAO), including Canadian users of these facilities;

·         the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico where Canada has provided a state-of-the-art digital processing system that is at the heart of the array;

·         allied national infrastructure (time allocation committee, diverse community committees, boards of directors, data analysis techniques, planning activities, etc.)


The Millimetre Astronomy Group (MAG) is responsible for Canada's overseas mm/submm observatories. One member of the MAG, Doug Johnstone, has been loaned to the JCMT, and has taken the role of Associate Director JCMT through September 2014. Russell Redman continues to develop the JCMT archive at CADC, and has joined the radio spectrum management committee of Industry Canada on behalf of the Canadian astronomical community.

In addition to producing the ALMA Primer and conducting workshops and information sessions in advance of ALMA Call for Early Science Proposals, the MAG is involved with ALMA operations through the North American ALMA Research Center. For example, James Di Francesco spent November as Astronomer on Duty at the operations support facility in Chile assisting with Early Science observing; Brenda Matthews has been reducing and carrying out quality assurance of ALMA data for users; Gerald Schieven is involved with observing script generation (P2G); and both Doug and Gerald recently participated as technical secretary/assessor in the Cycle 1 proposal evaluation process. The MAG is developing ALMA data reduction facilities locally. Those who would like to visit Victoria to receive assistance from the MAG in reducing and/or analyzing their ALMA data can make arrangements through the ALMA Helpdesk.

Canada is well represented in ALMA Cycle projects. In total there are six projects with a Canadian PI and twenty-three projects with Canadian co-Is. Together these represent twenty-four unique ALMA projects.

The Canadian PI projects represent almost 4% of the total estimated time awarded highest priority status.  When Canadian co-I projects are included this comes to just over 18% of the total time.

This can be compared to Cycle 0 when there were three Canadian PI projects and twelve projects with Canadian co-Is. PI time came to just under 3.2% of the total highest priority time. Including projects with Canadian co-Is comes to just under 10% of the total time.


Astronomy Technology

·         science-driven development and delivery of innovative technology, instrumentation, and observatory facilities

·         in support of the observatories financed in whole or in part by the Government of Canada.


Steady progress is being made on composite reflectors, phased array feeds, low noise amplifiers, and digital signal processing for the SKA.

NRC is working on forming international consortia to lead the central signal processing (correlators and non-image processors), phased array feeds, and composite reflector work packages for the SKA Pre-Construction phase.

We are also working collaboratively on the cryogenic low noise amplifiers for single pixel feeds and won the bid to supply cryogenic LNAs to the MeerKat SKA precursor.

Composite Reflectors - Construction of the 15 m Dish Verification Antenna (DVA-1), being developed by National Research Council (NRC)/ Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) and the US Technology Development Program, is well underway after a successful critical design review (CDR) held in June 2012. Beam pattern analysis at 10 GHz shows a gain loss of less than 0.1 db over gravity, wind, and thermal test cases indicating that DVA-1 will operate at a very high performance level. Tony Willis has been simulating observations based on an array of DVA1 antennas configured with 1100 to 1900 MHz broadband feed designs developed by Bill Imbriale of JPL. The simulations clearly show that feeds that produce antenna radiation patterns with low asymmetry yield superior images. Fabrication of the primary and secondary moulds is complete and the moulds have been received and aligned in a leased facility close to DRAO. The pedestal, designed and fabricated by Minex Corp., is substantially complete with all large parts fabricated. The DVA-1 project is on schedule for 'first light' in the first half of 2013.

Digital Signal Processing - The Office of the SKA Organization, supported by organizations and groups around the world, is in the process of finalizing the work breakdown structure (WBS) and statement of work (SOW) for the stage one SKA Pr-Construction work packages. A request for proposals for the work packages will be issued in early 2013. NRC/DRAO, in a collaborative contract with MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates (MDA) of Vancouver BC, is proposing to lead the central signal processor (CSP) stage one work package.  A plan for proposal has been generated and received a favourable response at the kick-off telecon held on September 5 and 6 2012. At that telecon a number of other potential CSP consortium leads decided to join the Canada-led consortium. Recent effort has been focused on adding detail to the SKA Office WBS/SOW so that a contractually ready proposal with precisely defined inputs, activities, relationships, and deliverables can be written. A preliminary distilled WBS has been combined with an EoI (Expression of Interest) form and a preliminary stage one execution schedule, and sent to potential consortium members.

Low Noise CMOS Receiver Development - Researchers at the University of Calgary continue their work on a fully integrated SKA receiver and broadband low power analogue to digital converters (ADCs). The RF portion of a single IC direct-sampling receiver in 65 nm TSMC CMOS is currently undergoing testing. The tests show 70 dB of gain over the design frequency range from 0.7-1.4 GHz with input return loss of better than 8 dB. Noise measurements are being undertaken but the large gain of the circuit causes measurement difficulties that are being resolved. New 10 GS/s 4-b Flash ADCs have been fabricated in 65 nm TSMC CMOS and delivered to the University of Calgary in early September. Initial low frequency tests show that the self-calibration circuit is operational, increasing the effective number of bits (ENOB) from 2.2 to 3.9 with 5 GS/s power consumption of approximately 50 mW. Careful testing is on going to verify all aspects of ADC operation. Testing of time-based 65 nm TSMC CMOS ADCs is also on going. The time-based ADC, consisting of two stages, which are separated by cables, is operating at 5 GS/s and is operating both as an ADC and as a data transfer system. Time-domain waveforms show abnormalities at some input frequencies, which cause a reduction of the effective number of bits (ENOB) at these frequencies from about three to nearly two. The cause of the frequency dependent behaviour is thought to be due to high input signal levels. Accurate investigation of these abnormalities is underway.

Phased Array Feeds - Significant progress is being made on the development of the Advanced Focal Array Demonstrator (AFAD) with a prototype thick Vivaldi element developed in collaboration with Christophe Craeye and Rémi Sarkis at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium. The elements are self-supporting, low loss and are thick enough to house a low-noise amplifier (LNA) near the antenna feed point, reducing feed-line losses (for testing a coaxial cable connects the feed point to the output connector in the figure). Craeye et al. have performed a full-wave EM simulation of a 71-element array using this Vivaldi and the data are being used to design an LNA coupling network. These results were recently presented at the 2012 International Conference on Electromagnetics in Advanced Applications in Cape Town, SA. Each LNA output in AFAD is connected to a receiver module which amplifies, filters, and digitises the signal. A high speed ADC directly samples at the signal frequency (of 0.7 - 1.5 GHz)

Figure 1 Pictures of the DVA1 mould setup near DRAO, and the DVA1 mount ready for integration testing at Minex.

CFHT SPIRou science instrument

NRC is participating in the development of the SPIRou near infrared spectropolarimetry in collaboration with U de Montreal U Laval, IRAP Toulouse, IPAG Grenoble, OHP Marseille, U Geneva, and ASIAA.  SPIRou is a near infrared spectropolarimeter intended for precision radial velocity measurement of exoplanets around M dwarfs.  NRC's contribution is on the design of the cryogenic spectrograph subsystem.  

A Preliminary Design Review (PDR) was held Oct 17-19 at the CFHT offices in Waimea, and the external review panel completely concurred with the SPIRou team's great science potential and on the instrument design presented.  They made some good recommendations for completion of this instrument and the SPIRou team is working on plans for the final design phase leading to construction and first light in 2016.

Figure 2 Design rendering of SPIRou spectrograph


Optical Astronomy

·         support for the optical observatories, financed in whole or part by the Government of Canada (Gemini, CFHT, DAO), and for their Canadian users;

·         space astronomy activities as per agreements with the CSA (e.g., JWST, ASTROSAT, data archiving, etc.);

·         allied national infrastructure (time allocation committee, diverse community committees, boards of directors, data analysis techniques, planning activities, etc.);

·         data management for the observatories; and

·         public outreach.



The CANFAR (Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research) collaboration requests and manages allocations of processing and storage resources from Compute Canada. CADC is the technical hub of CANFAR and operates services that allow the astronomical community to access these resources. In the past year, CADC has delivered a total of 1.2 Petabytes (132 million files) to its users. This is equivalent to 1.7 million Megacam images! The delivered data consists of CANFAR User Storage (VOSpace) deliveries of 528 Terabytes (117 million files) and deliveries from the CADC data archives of 631 Terabytes (15 million files).

CADC - Dec12.jpg

CANFAR and CADC work together to provide cloud processing capabilities to astronomers. In the past 12 months users have executed 154,000 jobs consuming over 1 million core-hours.

Centre of the Universe

During National Science and Technology Week, Eric Chisholm (Manager of our interpretative facility, The Centre of the Universe, CU) and his team once again played national and regional leadership roles in diverse outreach activities aimed at exciting youth about science.  They’ve been developing wide ranging partnerships that leverage their experience in conveying astronomy to the public, as called for in our community’s LRPs. 

A highlight of this quarter was an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the Largest Practical Science Lesson:

This national project, led by the team at, centered around two simple science experiments exploring the impacts of changing air pressure. The CU played an integral role in both the planning and execution. On launch day, Friday, 12 October, approximately 15,000 Canadians at 135 sites attempted the record their participation simultaneously across Canada. CU staff members were onsite at both the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and Science World in Vancouver where they supported the participation by about 700 eager Vancouver area students and teachers. Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, whose invitation CU staff had arranged, captivated the wide-eyed imagination of the students both during the attempt and afterwards with two curriculum-based lectures. 

In the build up to the record attempt, CU staff made several key contributions, including creating the promotional videos (links below), drafting the lesson plan used across Canada, as well as serving as the primary contact for Canadian participants. The science behind the experiments received the official sanction from our NRC aerospace colleagues who reviewed the lesson plan for accuracy. It will take time for Guinness to sort the final tally, but everyone involved in the attempt knows their efforts contributed to something really special.  The experience points a way to future effort to create mass involvement by students in science experimentation. 

Participant Map:,-92.021484&spn=34.98434,79.013672

Guinness Promotion & Instructional videos:

Western Canada NSTW Launch:  Early Saturday morning, Eric Chisholm with the VPs of Genome BC & Science World launched NSTW in Western Canada, kicking-off two free days at Science World. The streamed event linked Science World with the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology for a simultaneous cake-cutting and was capped by an explosive coast-to-coast demonstration! CU staff took to the centre stage four times during the two-days highlighting fun demonstrations for making a comet and illustrating the world of IR. Their two-table booth, mingled amongst a dozen or so other outreach groups, saw thousands of the visitors during the two rain-filled days. Jeremy Hansen delivered two packed lectures to several hundred eager area youth. In the chaos it’s hard to say how many people they directly reached, but the attendance count for Saturday and Sunday was last checked at over 14,000 with 3 hours left to go!  Which is to say, between the Guinness Record attempt and the weekend open house, some 30,000 people were reached.

Science Inspired Art:  Continuing the very successful Science Inspired Art exhibit from the 2012 February AAAS conference in Vancouver, the CU arranged to have the artwork displayed in the foyer of Science World the entire summer. The pieces, which were carefully placed in captivating patterns, have been seen by thousands since early June. The last of the art came down as NSTW drew to a close, bringing to conclusion CU’s second very successful offsite museum exhibit in the greater Vancouver area.

Contributions from Eric Chisholm, Severin Gaudet, Jim Hesser, David Loop, David Schade, and Gerald Schieven