Conversation with Frank Valdes (NOAO Scientist)
Tell us about your background, Frank. How did you become interested in astronomy?
As a child my interest in the sciences came from natural history museums and planetariums. I was a physics major as an undergraduate. (I might have chosen computer science except that discipline was just starting and my school didn’t have that major then.) All the graduate programs I applied to were in physics except for one in astronomy. The astronomy program was the one that responded with personal letters and references to interesting astronomy papers. I think I made the right choice to be in astronomy rather than physics. I did my graduate work in theoretical simulations so I gained experience with computational science. I was then recruited for a postdoc involving image processing (a topic that was still relatively new then). That experience led me to the Kitt Peak National Observatory (which eventually became part of NOAO) to work on image processing.
What do you do at NOAO? What are you currently passionate about?
I develop algorithms and science applications for astronomical data analysis and reduction. When I was recruited to NOAO I was particularly drawn to the vision of providing general, portable, and high quality astronomical software to the astronomical community. That led to my work with NOAO’s Image Reduction and Analysis Facility (IRAF) software system. My reward is the appreciation of astronomers throughout the community who use my software.
How long have you worked at NOAO and how have you contributed to its mission?
I came to NOAO directly from my one and only postdoc and have been here since 1982. My contributions have been principally through IRAF in areas of instrument reductions and spectroscopic analysis. I have also contributed to data acquisition systems such as those for the Mosaic and Newfirm cameras. Most NOAO instruments have data reduction tools provided through the IRAF software I’ve developed. I’ve also provided other observatory tools such as exposure time calculators.
What skills do you find are important in doing your job?
For developing science software applications an astronomical degree is important, as is experience in image and data processing, and mathematical proficiency in linear algebra, calculus, and statistics.
What do you like about your job?
I really like supporting the broader astronomical community and that aspect of NOAO’s mission.
What do you think about working and living in Tucson?
It is a nice size town, I like the climate, and I like being associated with a university.