Originally published in the July 2022 issue of the CTAO Newsletter.
Q&A with ACADA Deputy Coordinator & Quality Manager, Bernhard López
Anyone who has ever worked with Bernhard knows that he is calm, yet passionate about his work. Not to mention, “Citizen of the world” is an expression that suits him perfectly: he has lived and worked in Germany, Chile, the U.S.A. and Italy. His extensive experience in different fields and for world-class observatories, makes Bernhard an excellent addition to the CTAO team. In this interview, Bernhard shares more about himself and his work…
Tell us about yourself and how you came into your present role.
I like to start by saying that I am an engineer. I highlight it because I am passionate about building things, tangible things that can move. Hence my passion for participating in the construction of observatories.
In fact, I began to participate in the construction of observatories more than 25 years ago, when I was a student. Although I was born in Germany, at the age of 17 I went to study at a university in Chile, where I was able to participate in the characterization of the Gemini South site and work in a cosmic-ray laboratory in Antarctica. And this is when I fell in love with astronomical observatories.
After a few years of working for ESO in Chile with optical instruments, I moved with my wife to Italy to not only participate in a new project, Virgo, but also to see another part of the world. Then, my next challenge led me to work with another type of technology: radio antennas for the ALMA Observatory. I spent time in the U.S. before returning to Chile, where I stayed for 14 years.
Thus, I worked in projects under construction and even under commissioning, but I was missing being able to work on projects in the design and early planning phase in preparation for construction and operation. And that’s where the CTAO came in. The CTAO was clearly among the world-class projects that could give me a new challenge, and in which I felt I could help in the early definitions. In addition to this professional inquisitiveness, I also wanted to show my family another country, teach my children that we live in a diverse, international world. And so, I arrived at the CTAO’s Science Data Management Centre (SDMC) in Germany to work as ACADA Deputy Coordinator, as well as Quality Manager.
What does an ACADA Deputy Coordinator and Quality Manager do and why is it important to the future of CTAO?
As ACADA (Array Control And Data Acquisition system) Deputy Coordinator, my goal is to support and help the development of this key system. For me, CTAO is more of a software observatory than a hardware observatory, so there is a strong focus on developing all the fundamental software tools for the operation of the Observatory in a timely manner. And the truth is that I have been very lucky to join a really good team, very structured and where everything was clear, so it was quite simple to integrate.
On the other hand, as a Quality Manager, my focus is the establishment of processes, initially focused on construction, so that we all work approximately in the same way or reconcile appropriately the different forms of development in a fair and transparent manner for all parties. The definition of such processes needs to also consider the operation phase: unlike isolated telescopes, observatories have periods of years of coexistence between construction and operation. Thus, telescopes are being added at the same time as early science is being done. For this reason, we already must think about how to make this coexistence possible. In short, make use of a work methodology that allows us to converge and optimize the development of the Observatory.
What are you working on now?
Regarding ACADA, our main goal now is launching “release 1,” a very important milestone. This first release of ACADA is limited to the Large-Sized Telescope prototype, the LST-1, so we can test the software and build solid foundations for future releases with which the array of telescopes will be operated. Part of my job is the coordination between the Computing groups of CTAO and LST-1 and efficiently planning the integration of this software in the common interfaces.
As Quality Manager, I am working on updating the Observatory’s Operation Plan. An Operation Plan must include concepts of scientific observation (e.g., how observation proposals are managed) and technical operations (e.g., how we actually acquire the data). It also has to consider the specific characteristics of each array site (e.g., the differing geophysical and administrative conditions at the telescope sites as well as the responsibilities of the headquarters or the SDMC). All the processes and who participates in what way, on-site and off-site, must be described to be able to evaluate the necessary resources and technical requirements. And it really goes beyond just software or hardware. For example, operating a telescope is not running it, it’s maintaining it, it’s having a vehicle that allows you to access it, it’s having a place where the operators can have lunch! And of course, we must also consider what happens after the data is taken. That is, the experience of the scientific users who will analyze our data, as in the tools and support they will need. Each and every one of the little checkboxes of this process has its relevance for CTAO to work well, and I am happy to be able to contribute to this.
Learn more about the CTAO Computing Department on our website.