Newton RCUK-CONACYT MUSCAT - a new technology large-format camera for the Large Millimeter Telescope

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


The scientific potential of any telescope, and the opportunity to make important new discoveries, is based not only the size of the primary mirror or the reflecting surface, but also on the performance of its scientific instruments. The Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) is the world's largest telescope, with a diameter of 50-m, designed to operate at a wavelength of 1mm. The LMT has recently started scientific operations on the summit of Volcan Sierra Negra at an altitude of 4600m, in central Mexico. The LMT is Mexico's largest scientific project, however, in order to maintain its unique position in world astronomy in the future, the and effort made in the construction of this world-class facility must now be matched with an equally ambitious instrumentation development program to support the scientific objectives of the LMT.

The RCUK-CONACYT Research Partnership offers an exciting new opportunity to build a sustainable scientific collaboration between students and researchers in the UK and Mexico. This will result in a significant contribution to the development of the LMT scientific user-community in Mexico, and to the creation of an independent capability in Mexico to design and fabricate new-technology detectors operating at (sub-)mm (THz) wavelengths with applications both in astronomy and other areas of science and industry. This proposal will fund the construction of MUSCAT (Mexico-UK Sub-mm Camera for Astronomy), a next-generation large-format camera for the LMT, as a collaborative project between the University of Cardiff and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica y Electronica. This state-of-the-art instrument will exploit the previous Mexican investment in the construction and operation of the Large Millimeter Telescope, and enable this new scientific infrastructure to conduct high-impact "Big Science" which will serve as an inspiration towards the formation of new generations of scientists, technicians and engineers in Mexico.

Our research partnership will transfer and exchange a wealth of scientific knowledge and experience in (sub-)mm astronomy between the UK and Mexico through a joint scientific-program that we hope to expand in the future beyond the completion of the RCUK-CONACYT Research Partnership. An element of this "Big Science" program will address fundamental questions related to the formation and evolution of structure over the full history of the Universe that are central to the LMT, as well as the ground-based James Clerk Maxwell sub-mm telescope and the satellite-borne SPIRE camera on the Herschel telescope. The data-products and research papers that will result from the combination of MUSCAT observations on the LMT with the archival data from the JCMT and Herschel will enhance the legacy-value of both the latter facilities and provide a greater scientific-return on the UK investment in these two transformative telescopes.

The RCUK-CONACYT project will also transfer skills and expertise in THz technologies and instrumentation that currently does not exist in Mexico. With a wide range of commercial applications in industry and applied sciences, this technology transfer from the UK to Mexico can enable long-term economic development and provide additional social benefits in priority sectors of the CONACYT strategic special programme for science, technology and innovation such as health, telecommunications, space-sciences, and national security.

Planned Impact

This RCUK-CONACYT project is based around a scientific collaboration and technological transfer between Cardiff University, and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica, Optica y Electronica (INAOE) to
build a state-of-the-art mm-wavelength camera, MUSCAT, for the 50-m Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico capable of delivering unique world-class scientific observations and to support the growth of future sustainable Mexican and UK collaborations.

The non-academic beneficiaries of this project include industry, businesses and commercial enterprises, education sectors and the wider society in both Mexico and the UK. Given the technology transfer is principally in the direction of the UK to Mexico, the non-academic beneficiaries in the industrial and business sectors are more likely to be in Mexico.

At the conclusion of this project, Mexico will have acquired from the UK, through a programme of Technology Transfer, an independent capability (that did not previously exist) to develop THz instrumentation and to compete internationally in sub-mm and THz research within science and industry. Technology at THz frequencies has important and high-impact applications across many priority areas of science and industry, e.g. health, national security, space sciences and telecommunications, for both the UK and Mexico governments.

The transfer of this expertise from the UK can enable long-term economic development and social benefits in Mexico. For example at THz frequencies many materials are transparent (e.g. packaging, clothes) which means that THz imaging has become a rapidly expanding field in the areas of non-destructive testing, biomedical sensing and security screening. Although it is beyond the scope of this RCUK-CONAYCT project, a long-term benefit of acquiring these THz detector technologies is the potential for Mexican commercial and industrial development of spectrometers and passive imaging (cameras) with applications in the priority sectors of national security (e.g. video-rate body-screening at airports, stadiums or large public events that require security checks; postal packaging checks and chemical (explosive, drug) analysis) and in medicine (e.g. non-invasive imaging to conduct screening for early stage cancers, ex-vivo biopsies, and dental screening and diagnosis, and THz spectroscopy for blood analysis). These are just a few clear examples of benefits to the UK and Mexico societies that result from this technology transfer program.

The LMT is Mexico's largest scientific project, and therefore this scientific infrastructure attracts a high-level of attention from the government, science community, media, education sector and the general public. The impact of the LMT "Big Science" scientific program that addresses fundamental questions about the nature of the Universe we live in - its formation history and evolution - will be enhanced through the technological development and construction of the MUSCAT camera. Hence the LMT and MUSCAT will be used to inspire and attract an increasing number of students to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. This will lead to the formation of more scientists, engineers and technicians with transferable skills that can address a wide range of priorities (health, climate, sustainable energy, ... ) and social needs in both Mexico and UK.

Increasing interest in the value of science at the earliest education stages (e.g. the example of the LMT in Mexico) will have a further impact and positive contribution to the economic growth and wealth of Mexico and the UK, given the close link between the strength of an economy and development of the scientific and engineering community through technology and innovation. This in turn will demand the creation of more jobs in industry, business and the general science community, leading to greater social mobility and the wider benefits that this delivers.


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Description Chase Cryogenics 
Organisation Chase Research Cryogenics Ltd
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Our research team and I are working with Chase Cryogenics to develop a continuous version of a mini dilution refrigerator system for use in the Muscat instrument.
Collaborator Contribution Our partner is providing cryogenic hardware and gasses along with man power to develop the dilution units.
Impact Work still ongoing but expected outcomes are a commercially available cryogenic system.
Start Year 2017
Description INAOE 
Organisation National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics
Country Mexico, United Mexican States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The collaboration between the Cardiff Astronomy Instrumentation group (AIG) and INAOE is to build, install and perform science with the MUSCAT instrument. The AIG is providing expertise and man power to design and build the instrument. Both groups will participate in a science programme with MUSCAT installed on the Large Millimetre Telescope (LMT).
Collaborator Contribution INAOE are providing the majority of the hardware costs and providing man-power to the instrument build and knowledge transfer programme. INAOE are also providing expertise on the LMT site and facilities.
Impact This collaboration has resulted in a formal commitment to build UK-Mexico instrumentation for the LMT.
Start Year 2016