Letter From the Director

Welcome to the DiRAC Institute newsletter, and to the new academic year!

Allow me to begin by introducing myself: I’m Mario Juric, Associate Professor of Astronomy at UW and the new Director of DiRAC. My interests span science and technology: from asteroids of the Solar System, the origins of planetary systems, or the structure of our Milky Way, to imagining and building computing systems that allow us to do such studies — whether it’s data systems for the upcoming Bn$1 Rubin Observatory or new cloud-based data analysis platforms. I am joined by Prof. James Davenport, our new Associate Director, whose diverse research includes everything from variable stars to searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

We take over from Prof. Andy Connolly, our founding Director who stepped down to lead the University’s eScience Institute, and Dr. Daniela Huppenkothen, our founding Associate Director who is departing for a faculty appointment in the Netherlands. And what a remarkable Institute they created! Since its inception in 2017, under Andy and Daniela’s leadership DiRAC pioneered a groundbreaking collaborative research and mentoring program that combines astronomy, data science, and software engineering. The initial research themes — the Solar System, the Milky Way, transients, cosmology, inference, and software systems — generated over 80 publications and software products. In that time, the Institute has doubled in size, hosted 13 postdocs (including 6 DIRAC Fellows, two NSF Fellows, and two B612 Asteroid Institute Fellows) plus numerous research scientists, students, and visitors. DiRAC spawned numerous cross-cutting collaborations: from a PNAS-published study on Hack Weeks, the introduction of X-ray astronomy techniques to asteroid light curve analyses, the search for peculiar stars in 1Bn+ ZTF light-curves using big data analytics tools, to our continued work on building the LSST (now known as the Rubin Observatory). As Jim and I take over, we do so with great humility and a profound sense of responsibility: to build on the great work Andy and Daniela began will be no easy task!

I hope you will enjoy reading about the research that is ongoing at DiRAC. Even through these difficult times, we continue to think about the wonders of the universe and work to build a more fair and inclusive community at DiRAC and beyond. We hope this newsletter brings you a few snapshots of the new and exciting work happening in DiRAC, and entices you to stop by some of the public (now virtual) events we have planned for the coming year.

Mario Jurić

Professor, Department of Astronomy
Director, DiRAC Institute