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Meet Dr Ariadna Calcines, Senior Optical Engineer in the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI)

Changing direction

It all started at high school, with a wonderful teacher called Lila who made me love physics. Until then, I always wanted to be a journalist. She changed the direction of my life and I’m grateful for that every day.

Pursuing a passion for physics

I studied Physics-Astrophysics at the University of La Laguna (ULL) in Spain and in my first class of astronomical instrumentation, I discovered that was what I wanted to do. I specialised in that field with a Master's degree in Astrophysics and PhD in Physics at ULL, as well as studying at the International School for Advanced Instrumentation.

My PhD in the design of the integral field spectrograph for the European Solar Telescope obtained the Cum Laude qualification and was awarded best PhD of Spain in Astronomical Instrumentation, Computation and Technology Development 2013-2014 by the Spanish Astronomical Society.

The path to Durham

I've always combined work with studies, which meant several years of work experience after my PhD. I've worked in astronomical instrumentation for almost 17 years. I design advanced technology, which we never replicate. Each instrument is unique to decompose the light collected by the largest ground-based telescopes and space missions to obtain information about celestial objects.

Also, when I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I worked at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) in Spain and spent some months in Mexico City, UNAM, doing some research stays. After that I moved to Oxford to work for the company AVS UK.

Soon after, I found the opportunity to join the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI), Durham University, which I had always wanted to do. There was also a period of time I moved to Germany to the Institute of Astrophysics of Potsdam (AIP) as Head of Optics but I felt Durham was my place, so I came back.

The next generation of solar space missions

I work as a senior optical engineer at the CfAI, mainly dedicated to optical design of innovative technology. My main research lines are spectroscopy and the image slicer technology, for which I investigate new designs, developments, and applications.

Currently, I am leading the design and development of the image slicers for the instrument CUBES for the Very Large Telescope in Chile, I participate in BlueMUSE, for the same telescope and I am developing a new research line to apply the image slicer technology in the Extreme Ultra-Violet regime for the next generation of solar space missions.

Young Female Scientist Talent of Spain 2022

The Young Female Scientist Talent Prize is awarded by the Royal Academy of Sciences of Spain in collaboration with Mastercard Spain to four female scientists under 45 who they consider to have significantly contributed to sciences in Spain. I was awarded this in the category of ‘Applications of sciences to technology’ for the development of the image slicer technology for Solar Physics. I am Spanish, from the Canary Islands, and did all my studies in Spain and worked at the IAC for eight years, where I developed the technology for this Prize. It was the first time that the image slicer technology was proposed in Spain and in general for solar observations.

Dr Ariadna Calcines (far right) with fellow awardees

My first design was for the European Solar Telescope, one of the two largest solar telescopes of the world and a prototype for GREGOR, the largest solar telescope of Europe. This development offered a more efficient solution for solar integral field spectropolarimetry and is currently applied to all solar ground-based and space telescopes.

Although I’ve worked outside of Spain for nine years, I am very grateful to keep connected and for this recognition to my career.

Creativity and pushing technological limits

I dream of creating my own group for image slicers where we can propose innovative solutions and explore synergies between this technology and other fields. With a researcher background, my designs always respond to scientific necessities, trying to provide the tools that will enable astronomers to move forward in sciences. Creativity is essential in my career and I am constantly pushing the limits of technology.

I am investigating the application of image slicers in the Extreme Ultra-Violet spectral range, where it has never been applied before. The intention is to develop this research line and its associated technology for ultra-compact integral field spectrographs for the next generation of solar space missions.

My next step in my career is to continue to develop instrumentation for the largest telescopes and with the latest technology. I hope to do this by progressing from my current role to a permanent position.

Advice for women in physics/science

My advice is to do that we feel passionate about. The scientific career is very hard, but, when we love what we do, we enjoy every moment of it. Everything that is worthy always takes time and effort.

I would like to encourage them to pursue their dreams, to believe in their ideas, in themselves, and to let them know that they matter and we need their contributions.