31 October 2008

Report of the ANASAC to NRAO: Annual Face-to-Face Meeting

Attending: Baker (chair), Bally, Blain, Fall, Heckman, Johnson, Johnstone, Prochaska, Shang, Stacey, Weinberger, Williams (by phone)

GENERAL COMMENTS ============ In addition to the formal charges to which responses follow below, the ANASAC would like to offer unsolicited recommendations on several other issues that were discussed at the face-to-face meeting.

(1) Future charges.

The ANASAC would like to consider future charges from NRAO regarding three issues:

(a) The drafting of a white paper on the scientific justification for the development line item in the ALMA operations budget, as an input to the upcoming U.S. decadal review. (This charge would engage primarily the U.S.-based members of the committee, and is viewed as sensible by the ASAC.)

(b) The provisions that will be made for allocation of ALMA observing time, including how large proposals, director's discretionary proposals, and joint proposals with other observatories will be handled for the North American share of ALMA time.

(c) The computational demands of offline data reduction by North American ALMA users, including access to high performance computers for analysis of complex datasets.

(2) Contacts with other groups.

The ANASAC would like to learn from NRAO how the recommendations of the McCray "Radio Futures" committee will couple with ALMA.

In anticipation of the time allocation charge suggested above, the ANASAC may contact the JWST Science Working Group, the Herschel Science Team, and equivalent groups to discuss the prospects for joint ALMA/JWST proposals. We would encourage parallel contacts between NRAO and STScI at the directorial level as well.

(3) ANASAC membership and meetings.

The diversity of background within the current ANASAC membership has been valuable as the committee grapples with issues (e.g., user grants) that are of interest to the entire North American community. Since the committee is also being asked to consider many items of a technical nature, the ANASAC encourages NRAO to make the next set of new members people who already have expertise on (sub)millimeter astronomy. In future years, the balance of expertise on the committee can be tuned to match the ANASAC's evolving mission.

Regardless of background, the ANASAC recommends that in future years, new members be designated before the annual F2F meeting, so that they can have the option of attending the F2F as non-voting visitors. Arranging for such an overlap of outgoing and incoming members will help the latter come up to speed on the committee's work.

The ANASAC recommends that planning for future F2Fs allow for the possibility of meetings that last more than one day, to give time for more reflection on the agenda items and the committee's overall mission. Future meetings should definitely follow the precedent begun this year, in which briefing material was provided to the committee in advance of the F2F (and was largely compiled from presentations to other committees, in order to minimize reporting burden on NRAO staff).

The ANASAC would like to thank NRAO staff for organizing and preparing presentations for this year's F2F meeting.

RESPONSES TO CHARGES ================

Charge 1
The ANASAC has a standing charge to review the latest ASAC charges, and provide input to the ASAC members. We ask that the ANASAC pay particular to attention to the charge in which the JAO is asking the ASAC to take a prominent role in defining the scientific priorities for the ALMA development plan. Please discuss and recommend how the ANASAC can facilitate a mechanism to solicit the inputs and interests of the North American community and make sure the ASAC deliberations encompass the needs of the NA community.

In the near term, discussion of ALMA development priorities is being led by a 15-member group that includes six North Americans (current ANASAC members J. Bally and A. Blain, former ANASAC members M. Gurwell and C. Wilson, former MMA Advisory Committee member J. Carlstrom, and current North American Project Scientist A. Wootten). This group will make its initial response to the ALMA Board in November 2008, with its efforts expected to expand and develop through 2009. Informal contacts by members of this group with colleagues at their home institutions and/or on the ANASAC will yield immediate feedback from a subset of the North American community. Input from broader cross-sections of the community has been obtained at the second ("Transformational Science with ALMA: Through Disks to Stars and Planets"; 2007 June 22-24) and third ("Transformational Science with ALMA: The Birth and Feedback of Massive Stars, Within and Beyond the Galaxy"; 2008 September 25-27) NAASC science workshops. At the latter event, one afternoon of the three days featured an introduction to "The Future Evolution of ALMA" from North American Project Manager A. Russell; breakout sessions to discuss key ALMA Galactic and extragalactic science drivers; and a final unified discussion (chaired by Blain) to synthesize a unified set of recommendations.

On longer timescales, the ANASAC recommends that the exercise at the third NAASC workshop be used as a template for similar "piggybacking" on future science meetings, whether they are organized by NRAO or not, as recommended by the ALMA Board. Such meetings might include future NAASC science workshops (explicitly mentioned in the current NRAO Long Range Plan), AAS and CASCA meetings, or smaller events with narrower but ALMA-relevant themes. The miminum requirements for targeting a meeting for a development discussion would be the attendance of (a) a handful of technically proficient ANASAC members, NAASC staff, and/or ALMA Project personnel who could help facilitate brainstorming discussions, and (b) a strong North American contingent. A series of such exercises would be relatively low-cost; the desired goal would be a dynamically evolving white paper on development priorities (analogous to the DRSPs) that would correspond to the scientific priorities of different subsets of the North American community. A more informal "piggybacking" could follow the example of the Spitzer Science Center, which used its booth at pre-launch AAS meetings to expose potential users to the capabilities of the observatory. Encouraging visitors to the NRAO booth to simulate a sample set of ALMA observations (in one of several scientific areas, perhaps scheduled for particular times at a rate of ~4 per day) and see what data could be delivered in how much integration time would then prompt feedback about what ALMA can't (yet) do, a source of input on development priorities.

Finally, the ANASAC would like to strike a note of realism: if only individual compelling science cases can really change the decision path for ALMA upgrades, NRAO will face the difficulties that (a) community members have so many proposals to write already that there will be little incentive to engage in "unicorn" exercises for facilities that might or might not come to be, and (b) no one wants to give away his/her best ideas to competitors. Overcoming these activation barriers may be difficult unless there is actually a formal solicitation for "ALMA 2020" proposals that can be appropriately rewarded (e.g., with explicit coauthorship on a development white paper). Logistical/technical support from the NAASC may also be appropriate.


Charge 3A
Finalize the current ANASAC response to this charge: "The NRAO asks the ANASAC to consider the issue of stimulating research in preparation for the use of ALMA, e.g., wide-field surveys to identify interesting targets, laboratory work on astro-chemistry, or theoretical work on star and galaxy formation, and how such preparatory research before ALMA is operational can be funded, as well as recommending avenues by which the NRAO or other organizations could promote such efforts."

The ANASAC discussed at length the full challenge of stimulating research in preparation for ALMA before the advent of full science operations, and came to the conclusion that the most critical element of developing ALMA-related research programs within the North American community is developing the human capital required to execute them. That conclusion is the motivation for the remainder of our response to this charge.

(1) Introduction

While it is being built by people with deep knowledge of mm and submm interferometry, ALMA should advance the science interests of almost all the broad observational astrophysics community in North America. The capabilities of ALMA will enable the community to build on its varied personal archives of data and professional knowledge to advance our understanding of the Universe.

In this statement lie some important realities of bringing ALMA online. The project and its builders must reach out to the wider astronomical community, many of whom have not so far gained experience of using mm/submm-wave interferometers. The project needs to:

i) retain support for healthy funding during construction, early science and full operations, to ensure that a dynamic team of graduate students and postdocs will be ready to capitalize rapidly on Early Science data; and

ii) ensure that a healthy pool of potential ALMA employees are available.

Note that it is important to reach out beyond the existing centers of excellence in submm astrophysics, to ensure that the whole community is engaged. However, in terms of training, continued operation of the existing facilities while ALMA is opened up are crucial.

While we appreciate that the financial constraints imposed by the advent of new capabilities usually requires sacrifice in existing support, continuity in the community is very important. There is some evidence that the breadth of the radio astronomy community in the US may have been adversely affected by the commissioning of the VLBA. While ALMA is a larger, and much-less-specialized instrument than the VLBA, we feel strongly that the whole of the North American scientific community will benefit from a vibrant mm/submm community, which will help the wider community to benefit from ALMA's arrival. We feel that the impact of ALMA will match those of other flagship projects at complementary wavelengths, like LSST, ELTs, and SKA; these facilities will be useful to the broadest communities, although their development is in the hands of specialists.

Furthermore, any additional expenditure will have to made either at the expense of items within the ALMA construction or operations budget, or else be supported by other avenues at NSF. The desire to involve the widest community in preparations for ALMA is the overriding goal, regardless of the source of funds.

(2) Training requirements

In general, the ANASAC supports the plans for community involvement as laid out in the NAASC budget. We offer here our renewed justification for a number of key elements...

Graduate student support is one area where we think the wider community could be introduced to ALMA. During early science, or when carrying out archival, laboratory, or theoretical work relevant to ALMA, graduate student support, allocated along the lines of the NRAO scheme that applies to the GBT, could be used to stimulate the interest of investigators and departments in becoming involved with ALMA, directly supporting the youngest investigators. This interest might be mercenary initially, but having local experts learning about ALMA must be good for both the project and the community.

Ongoing support from NSF for summer schools and support for REU programs at institutes with existing mm/submm interests would be an extremely important way to involve a larger fraction of the community in ALMA-related efforts prior to full-scale operations. We strongly support plans to implement such ALMA summer schools as early science approaches and gets underway. In a similar vein, we endorse the plan by NRAO staff members to develop an online series of ALMA science lecture notes that can be used in standalone form or as an adjunct to the excellent Condon & Ransom "Essential Radio Astronomy" notes that are already available.

Opportunities for predoctoral students to work with NRAO staff scientists on ALMA-related research projects are to be encouraged, modulo the obvious first priority for NAASC personnel of getting the array up and running. To facilitate this goal, the ANASAC recommends that the NRAO website feature a single, clearly designated page that lists all staff scientists, along with each individual's research interests and an indication of whether he or she is currently open to taking on a student.

Experienced postdocs and faculty are likely to be of great help with the commissioning of ALMA. In fact, given the difficulties with recruiting project staff, they may in fact be essential, despite sensibly being discouraged from making short visits in the ALMA Operations Plan. For substantial sabbatical stays in excess of 3 months, as detailed in the Operations Plan, the Commissioning and Science Verification (CSV) effort would surely welcome assistance, subject to the approval of the project scientist. Full support for visits by investigators to the NAASC (also already in the operations plan) should be provided.

The ALMA Operations Plan details three ALMA Fellows in Chile per year, and 6+6 staff astronomers/scientists at the NA ARC in Charlottesville means there is a heavy demand for trained postdoctoral staff. In addition, 4 ALMA-related Jansky Fellows are anticipated at any time. Note that the typical production of students for CARMA and CSO since their inception has been about 6.4 per year. Including SMA, less than 10 observational/instrumental students graduate in NA per year with experience of mm/submm-wave science.

We feel that student support is likely to involve more departments with ALMA, starting at the grassroots level, while more senior support is likely to ensure adequate North American staffing during CSV and Early Science.

We would encourage the NSF to make utility to the ALMA project a relevant positive criterion when assessing funding proposals.

The issue of user grants to support scientific exploitation of ALMA is one where the competitiveness of US investigators could be increased. It will be important to continue to consider the needs of the community in the context of ground-based facilities at all wavelengths. Note however, that the arrival of ALMA allows a natural opportunity to investigate this issue in a timely manner.

(3) Outreach and international promotion

Support for members of the North American community to attend astrophysics conferences and make presentations to emphasize the importance of ALMA could be considered. This could include observational, theoretical, and laboratory astrophysics. The availability of more material for EPO for both the general public and the wider astronomical community would also be welcome.

(4) Leverage from other facilities

In Europe, SCUBA-2, APEX, and near-IR/optical survey telescopes appear to have important roles to play in revealing ALMA sources. When it comes to identifying interesting targets for ALMA, it is arguable that our international partners have more access to suitable facilities, although note that the SPT/ACT, URO mm/submm facilities, and the future space missions WISE, Herschel, and Planck, along with the Spitzer archive, all have North American access and involvement. Note further that Canada is a partner in the JCMT, and thus there is direct access already by a fraction of the North American community to SCUBA-2 surveys.

Future facilities with NA community access that would enable more efficient identification of sources for ALMA to study include LMT and CCAT. Existing facilities that might be willing to negotiate greater North American involvement include APEX and JCMT, which operate under agreements with specific time limits.

Commitment to involvement in new facilities must involve wide community support and approval, but there are certainly opportunities to obtain enhanced scientific output from ALMA by preselecting targets more efficiently.

Archiving of other supporting data has been suggested as a possible way to help the community exploit ALMA. At present, we feel that a National Virtual Observatory and Google are in the best position to coordinate and execute this kind of effort.

(5) Summary

The ANASAC considers that maintaining a healthy US mm/submm-wave community is essential to help the wider community to appreciate and benefit from the investment in ALMA. We note that the ALMA operations plan already addresses many of the anticipated needs of the community, and we see additional student support as perhaps the most promising route for early involvement of the general community with ALMA.

Our recommendations are that NRAO and NSF should

i) Support the development and maintenance of human capital and expertise in ALMA, especially at the graduate student and postdoc levels, as outlined in the current NAASC budget;

ii) Consider the possibilities of enhancing the access of the community to the products of mm/submm surveys, and to supporting future surveys; and

iii) Take whatever steps possible to enhance public and community outreach activity, and to ensure that documentation, tools, and archives are readily accessible and publicized.


Charge 3B
In the context of the recent NSF/AST suggestion of dealing with ALMA-preparatory PI proposals, consider potential ways to inform the community and to stimulate the submission of ALMA-preparatory proposals in the upcoming round of NSF/AST call for PI Proposals in November 2008. Also consider whether this suggested approach would be a reasonable long-term method of instituting an ALMA User Grants program.

The U.S.-based members of the ANASAC support the idea of broadly based ALMA-preparatory PI proposals. Such a program has the potential to spark early interest in ALMA and increase the future U.S. user base. However, we remain somewhat confused by the criteria NSF AST will use to identify "ALMA-related" proposals at the current deadline during its preliminary information-gathering exercise. Given this uncertainty, we feel it would be wisest for the ANASAC and the NRAO not to take any special steps to encourage mention of ALMA by NSF proposers this year.

Looking ahead to future deadlines, the U.S.-based members of the ANASAC recommend that (i) the NRAO Director work with NSF AST leadership to come up with a clear statement of division policy on pre-ALMA grant proposals that can be posted to the NST AST and NRAO websites, and included in mailing to AAS membership; and (ii) NSF AST leadership, with the greatest urgency, convene a working group to examine possible mechanisms for linking funding and observing time on U.S. ground-based telescopes. Such a working group was identified a year ago by NSF AST (with the endorsement of the ANASAC) as the appropriate vehicle for considering the issue of ALMA user grants in a panchromatic context. If convened soon (even in a budget, telecon-only format), the results of such a working group's deliberations will provide timely and valuable input to the upcoming decadal review. To strengthen the impetus for convening this working group in the face of NSF AST's current inaction, the U.S.-based members of the ANASAC plan to contact parallel advisory groups for other U.S. facilities; we encourage similar coordination at the directorial level.


Charge 4
The NRAO asks the ANASAC for considerations and suggestions on the potential use of the NA ALMA prototype antenna, once activities at the ATF terminate in Q3 2008.

The ANASAC has considered several possibilities for the fate of the NA protoype antenna. An initial report (compiled principally by Mel Wright, who expresses gratitude to the participants at the ALMASIM meeting in Grenoble and other community members who provided their input) is appended below as background. Following our discussion at the F2F, the ANASAC came to two main conclusions. First, the ANASAC strongly endorses the view expressed at the F2F that a formal call for proposals to dispose of the prototype antenna would be an unwanted distraction from ALMA commissioning at a critical time for the project, and should be avoided. Second, we recommend that the NA project manager investigate the following options, in decreasing order of priority:

(1) Contact university groups (including the SMA as well as all U.S. groups supported by the URO program) to find out the terms on which any of them would be interested (if at all) in acquiring the protoype antenna. These contacts should not be restricted to groups with interferometers, since the prototype could still be useful in, e.g., testing instrumentation for CCAT.

(2) Explore the "South American options", namely (i) incorporation into a millimeter VLBI network, and (ii) moving the prototype to the APEX site and converting it into an APEX clone that could share infrastructure and instrumentation with APEX itself. The latter, "NAAPEX" scenario does not have a clear path to operational funding, but would be worth at least examining from a technical point of view, given the lack of direct North American access to a southern survey telescope at the present time.

(3) Consider options for leaving the prototype antenna in place and allowing it to be used on an ad hoc basis for millimeter VLBI experiments and/or instrmentation development by NRAO and other groups. The ANASAC recognizes that the cost of maintenance may make this a less attractive option for NRAO.

[Here follows the **INITIAL** report from Mel Wright, provided as grist for the mill rather than as an expression of the ANASAC's views]

i) VLBI experiment using one or both 12m antennas for 230 GHz VLBI.

The mm VLBI team are planning the next 1.3 mm VLBI experiment for Spring 2009. An ATF antenna could be outfitted to participate while the antennas are at ATF and are not starting to fall into disrepair. This experiment is specifically aimed to measure the structure of SgrA*, and would encourage ALMA/NRAO to actively participate in a global mm VLBI experiment. When ALMA antennas at the ALMA site become available, then these would be used for mm VLBI.

ii) Moving antenna(s) to CARMA, SMA, etc.

The ATF antennas could be moved to another, existing mm array site and used as standalone single antennas, or incorporated into a heterogeneous array. One possibility, which exploits the submm capability, would be to replace one of the SMA antennas with one of these antennas. A priority science topic for SMA was CII science. A 12m antenna may be too small for this.

iii) Moving antennas elsewhere for future VLBI.

ii) and iii) are expensive options, and would require continued support to operate. Noting that whilst neither CARMA nor the VLBI group have money to support this, it would be a waste of these antennas to destroy them, and a proposal could be written for specific goals. The Vertex antenna arrived in relatively small pieces and could be disassembled and reassembled. The ALCATEL antenna was shipped (via special airplane) with the dish in one piece, so it's not clear what its prospects are.

iv) Using as outrigger antennas to extend resolution at ALMA site.

The ATF antennas are non-standard and would require significant work to make them work at the ALMA site. The Japanese prototype antenna was moved and retrofitted/modified at substantial expense. The interface to the transporters and various other things have changed completely with the production antennas, so operationally it might be awkward to integrate them (spares, lack of transportability, etc). Non-standard antennas are harder to maintain, and add to operational costs. BIMA moved only nine of the ten 6m BIMA antennas to the CARMA site for these reasons.

v) Leaving them at the ATF.

This appears to be the best option. Moving them is likely too expensive for any URO in the U.S. to pull off in the present funding situation. The ATF antennas are superb mm/submm antennas on a well supported and accessable site in the U.S. They could be used for interesting science and for continued ALMA and mm-wave development. Although local NRAO management may like the site cleared out, NRAO could (1) continue to use them for development, or (2) make them available to the community for science. Their use for development has been extended several times, so that precedent exists; we note that real time data processing may be hard to develop and debug in Chile, as it requires tight coupling between on-line DSP and off-line data processing. Optical offset pointing and primary beam pattern correction of uv-data are other areas in which ATF-based development could be useful. A VLBI experiment in situ could set a precedent for (2). The availability of a superb mm/submillimeter antenna for science and development would be a real asset to both NRAO and the NA community.

The big question is whether such a scenario puts a burden on the ALMA project (supporting the antennas) and/or NRAO (through continued use of the land). Once NA has a definite intention, we should contact our international partners to make sure they too are on board, both as a courtesy and perhaps also as a way to secure more resources to make such a project feasible.

A mechanism for choosing between the options i through v should be addressed. In this regard, NRAO might want to solicit short proposals from the community for potential uses of the ATF antennas. Proposers should address the proposed science to be done with the dish(es), and discuss how they propose to fund relocation and operations.

-- AlWootten - 19 Dec 2008
Topic revision: r1 - 2008-12-19, AlWootten
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