Pasadena, CA— Astronomer and instrumentation expert Stephen Shectman of the Carnegie Observatories has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Shectman investigates the large-scale structure of the distribution of galaxies; searches for ancient stars; develops novel and creative astronomical instruments; and constructs large telescopes. He was the project scientist for the 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes and is largely responsible for their superb quality. Shectman served as the project scientist for the Giant Magellan Telescope until 2012 and is actively involved in designing instrumentation and providing consulting advice for the Giant Magellan Telescope that is now poised for construction.
The National Academy of Sciences elected 84 new members and 21 foreign associates April 29, 2014, “in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.” This brings the number of members to 2,214 and foreign associates to 444.
Working with fellow Carnegie astronomer George Preston, Shectman conducted an objective-prism survey for the oldest and most “metal-poor” stars in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy, and helped to provide the foundation for the study of what is now called near-field cosmology. For two decades most of the known extremely metal-poor stars (with heavy-element content less than 1/1000 of the solar value) were discovered in Shectman and Preston’s survey.
Shectman led the Las Campanas Redshift Survey (LCRS), the first galaxy redshift survey to use fiber-optic spectroscopy to measure the distances to hundreds of galaxies in each exposure. The greater the redshift of an object, the more distant it is. The LCRS was the first extensive redshift survey deep enough to convincingly show that the galaxy distribution becomes homogeneous on sufficiently large scales.
Over the decades, Shectman has developed a variety of specialized instruments for larger and larger optical telescopes at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. He created a series of photon-counting detectors for faint-object spectroscopy, which were copied by other observatories. He built the high-resolution echelle spectrograph and the multiobject fiber spectrograph for Carnegie’s 2.5-meter (100-inch) du Pont telescope. With former Carnegie postdoc Rebecca Bernstein, now project scientist for the Giant Magellan Telescope, he built the high-resolution echelle spectrograph for the 6.5-meter (21.3-feet) Magellan telescopes, and he worked on the Magellan echellette spectrograph and the Magellan Planet Finder Spectrograph.
“The telescopes at Las Campanas are among the best in the world thanks to Steve Shectman’s genius and leadership,” remarked Observatories director Wendy Freedman. “We are all very proud of, and benefit from, his incredible accomplishments.”
Carnegie president Richard A. Meserve said, “Steve exemplifies what Andrew Carnegie had in mind when he sought to support ‘exceptional’ people. Steve’s legacy is one that is difficult to surpass.”
Shectman received a B.S. in physics from Yale University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology in 1973. He has been a staff member at the Carnegie Observatories since 1975. He was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 1984 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997. In 2005 he received the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation from the American Astronomical Society, and in 2008 he received the Jackson-Gwilt Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society for his work on telescopes and instrumentation.