MEET: MATT MOUNTAIN, JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENTIST AND STSCI DIRECTOR
Dr. Charles Mattias ("Matt") Mountain has been the Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland since September 2005. He is also the Telescope Scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a member of the Webb Science Working Group, a Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. Visiting Professor, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford (U.K.).
Matt’s background is in physics and astronomy, and his principal research interests include star formation in galaxies (including our own), advanced infrared instrumentation, and the capabilities of advanced telescopes.
Matt has been a James Webb Space Telescope science working group member since 2002. He has worked with the Webb Project to convince the working group to descope the Webb telescope's primary mirror to a more achievable diameter. He represented the scientific interests of the Webb telescope on the Mirror Review Board that led to the selection of Beryllium mirrors. In his continuing work with the Project, NASA, Instruments Teams and the science working group, he is working to ensure the Webb telescope performance meets science requirements.
Matt was previously the Director of the Gemini Observatory, which is based in Hilo, Hawaii. The Observatory has a staff of approximately 190 and is responsible for the operation and development of the two 8-meter Gemini Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and Cerro Pachón in Chile.
He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1978 and a Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1983—both from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London University, U.K. — where he also held a Research Fellowship before joining the staff at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. During his seven years in Edinburgh, he worked on observations of star formation processes and instrumentation for infrared astronomy, which culminated in the successful commissioning of a new infrared spectrometer for the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope in Hawaii.
In 1992, Matt became Project Scientist for the Gemini 8-meter Telescopes Project—then based in Tucson, Arizona—and went on to become Project Director in 1994. During his tenure as Project Director, he had direct responsibility for the construction and commissioning of the two Gemini telescopes, which were accomplished on schedule, within a fixed budget of $184M.
In 1998 he moved to the “big island” of Hawaii, with responsibility for the creation of the Gemini Observatory — formulating, implementing, and running the operations and development programs of the two telescopes. As part of the development program, he built up a world-renowned adaptive optics group, which has kept the Gemini telescopes at the forefront of observational infrared astronomy. His initiation of a partnership with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) resulted in the formation of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy’s (AURA’s) “New Initiatives Office,” which conducted a two-year study of the feasibility of ground-based 30-meter telescopes. The success of this study led to the inclusion of AURA in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project.
Matt’s related responsibilities have included memberships on the review committee of the California Extremely Large Telescope and the TMT Board.
He has published more than 100 research papers, articles, and reports. He is a fellow of the American Astronomical Society, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and a member of the International Society for Optical Engineering. In 2003, Matt was awarded the Gabriela Mistral Medal for excellence in education by the Chilean Ministry of Education (the first time this award has been made outside of Chile) for the Gemini StarTeachers education program.
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