August 6, 2015
Review of Five Proposals for Studies of Proposed Development Upgrades for ALMA Program
Qualifications to review: I have had some familiarity with all of the subject matter at one point or another in my career, although often some time ago (development of equipment for radio astronomy, astronomical data reduction, research). The exceptions are neural networks and topology, which figure strongly in the last two proposals in this set. However, I am experienced (in the past) with the interpretation of complex spectral line data from synthesis telescopes.
Astronomical interpretation proposals: The two proposals for the development of advanced techniques for astronomical interpretation are in a class by themselves in this set. Judging by the full list of titles, they are also no similar ones in the full list. I give them a high rating even though they are arguably very high-risk/high-reward studies for two quasi-sociological reasons:
The interdisciplinary nature of these proposals is very healthy for radio astronomy, and should be strongly encouraged.
This kind of work broadens the appeal of the radio astronomy field to young researchers.
The weakness, however, might be that the work is started, but is rather slow going. There will need to be follow-up, and this programme does not strike me as the kind of patient investor needed. The ALMA programme is large enough to think a bit bigger in this area.
The two proposals have compensating strengths and weaknesses. The neural machine one is a better proposal, but not necessarily a better project. It has only two people involved, one of which is a young researcher who is also involved in the other proposal. The topology one has more bench strength, but the presentation concentrates more on what the proposers have done in other fields than what they are actually going to do here.
APP and Pulsar Backend Proposals: These are clearly continuations of larger projects that are very important. Priority should be given to the aspects of these proposals that will yield data as early as possible, while extensions to capabilities should be given lower priority.
Frontend LO Amplifiers: This proposal seems out of place. Although extremely important, it seems to be in a category that ALMA should be able to handle in other ways rather than competing with real upgrade proposals, and may reveal a weakness in ALMA management/funding. I have ranked it low because it appears to be out of scope. Of course this could also be my misinterpretation of the aims of the programme.