Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit Project Portfolio

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Institute of Astronomy


Observational astronomy in the UK is in a strong position with the
advent of the pioneering near-infrared (NIR) survey facilities of
VISTA and WFCAM and the opportunities for detailed followup provided
by membership of ESO. Significant advances in astronomy have always
relied heavily on surveys of the sky from radio, through optical to
X-ray wavelengths and the new era of deep NIR surveys is the latest
stage in this progression. It is also one where the UK has both a
substantial lead and the requisite expertise in the Cambridge Astronomical
Survey Unit (CASU) to exploit this advance in wide field astronomy
through delivery of expertly processed and calibrated science data
products. Recognising the benefits of this, ESO are now also heavily
committed to public imaging surveys through the VST and VISTA telescopes and
large scale public spectroscopic surveys, such as Gaia-ESO, with 300 allocated
nights on the VLT over the next 5 years.

Members of CASU have played a leading role in survey astronomy, not only
by pioneering techniques to optimally extract knowledge from survey data,
but also by taking a proactive role in exploiting this information to
produce world-leading research. This synergy and feedback between data
processing and exploitation has been crucial.

In the modern era wide-field digital survey cameras produce enormous volumes
of data that are way beyond the resource capacity and analysis skills
of non-specialist astronomers. Systematic pipeline processing, calibration
and legacy curation of observational data are a fundamental requirement of
an end-to-end integrated observing strategy and a crucial component of
a global Virtual Observatory. The Vista Data Flow System (VDFS) was
developed to allow an optimal ergonomic solution to this avalanche of data,
through access to multi-Tbyte data storage systems, expert pipeline
processing systems and science user support. Continuing development of the
CASU processing and analysis pipelines will not only benefit the UK astronomy
community now, but will also be relevant in the era of Extremely Large
Telescopes and the radio Square Kilometer Array, by developing the
infrastructure and skills to analyse the data from these facilities.

This standard grant proposal builds on the tremendous advances already
made and requests funding for CASU for the period 2012-2015 for the
following activities: continued operation and maintenance of the WFCAM
data processing and calibration pipeline; advanced development,
enhancement, and operation of the UK VISTA pipelines; maintenance and
upgrades for the VDFS ESO pipeline deliverables; operational support
and pipeline processing for the UK-led VST public surveys in the
southern hemisphere and the equivalent precursor surveys in the
northern hemisphere; and support for the design, development and operation of
spectroscopic processing pipelines for the Gaia ESO public survey and future
proposed spectroscopic survey instruments such as WEAVE and 4MOST

Planned Impact

The University of Cambridge has one of the most successful programmes
for encouraging knowledge transfer and resulting societal impact
between University departments and industry both in the United Kingdom
and elsewhere. CASU's approach to the search for impact opportunities
has been guided by the mechanisms the University has in place to
facilitate this.

CASU specifically, is now significantly involved in the transfer of
image analysis and data handling systems to the medical domain, and in
particular image processing applied to oncology. This exchange has the
potential to both increase the effectiveness of clinical health care
and enhance the quality of life of those with cancer, through improved
outcomes through better targeted therapeutic treatments.

CASU (Walton \& Irwin) recently had a one year Knowledge Exchange MRC
grant to apply image processing techniques developed in CASU to the
analysis of tissue micro array (TMA) data supporting oncological
research programmes at Cancer Research UK's, Cambridge Research
Institute (CRI). This was followed up with a STFC miniPIPSS
collaborative project between CASU and CRUK's CRI. This work is now
attracting considerable external attention. It was highlighted in a
recent Times article 'Advances in cancer treatment could be
astronomical' (Sat August 14 2010). The PathGrid system formed the
centrepiece of an extended news feature in the Science special issue
'Dealing with Data' (vol 331, Feb 12, 2011).

First results of the system have been published (Walton et al, Phil
Trans R Soc A, 2010, 368, 3937) where the pilot infrastructure was
described, demonstrating the effectiveness of the analysis applied to
the measurement of ER protein expression in TMA data. With co-workers
in the CR-UK, The University of Cambridge Dept of Oncology,
Strangeways Laboratory, and the Cambridge Breast Unit and Department
of Histopathology at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, we are about
to publish our latest work utilising our algorithms where a
significant large scale study - with a dataset of over 2400 tumours
in tissue micro-arrays. This points the way to the
adoption of our technique in a clinical operational setting.

Future beneficiaries include BBSRC's Institute of Food
Health, who have begun investigating utilising our analysis applied to
their full section mouse data. Further we are initiating validation
pilots with the Dept of Pathology at Addenbrooke's NHS hospital, with
the longer term aim to deploy the PathGrid processing system in the
Addenbrooke's clinical setting of high throughput analysis
of routine breast cancer pathology tests.

The PathGrid processing system gives a significant benefit in
improving the high throughput quantitative analysis of a range of
analysis processes across medical research and operational

The results of this work will be disseminated to the wider audience
via a number of mechanisms: medical (e.g. BMC Bioinformatics) and
eScience technical journals; presentations highlighting the scientific
discoveries at a range of venues and meetings. Exploitation of the
system will be facilitated via workshops aimed at informing new user
groups, across the CR-UK research institutes, across UK cancer
research groups, and NHS pathology departments. CASU will continue to
interact with the medical and clinical communities through forum such
as the Technology Strategy Board's Health Tech and Medicines KTN.

Outside of the medical area, CASU is active in supporting the public
understanding of science activities undertaken more generally at the
IoA and the university of Cambridge. CASU provides a range of high
quality processed images of the sky which are used as high impact
visual material in outreach activities such as the successful series
of one-day conferences for schools, each day in turn targeting KS3,
KS4, KS5 and secondary school teachers.


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Casewell S (2012) A photometric and astrometric investigation of the brown dwarfs in Blanco 1 Blanco 1 brown dwarfs in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Catchpole R (2015) The age and structure of the Galactic bulge from Mira variables in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Chapman S (2013) Dynamics in the satellite system of Triangulum: is And XXII a dwarf satellite of M33? in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Childress M (2015) Measuring nickel masses in Type Ia supernovae using cobalt emission in nebular phase spectra in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Clark J (2015) A long-period Cepheid variable in the starburst cluster VdBH222 in Astronomy & Astrophysics

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Clements D (2014) Herschel Multitiered Extragalactic Survey: clusters of dusty galaxies uncovered by Herschel? and Planckā€  in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Cockcroft R (2012) Unearthing foundations of a cosmic cathedral: searching the stars for M33's halo in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Description The primary goals of this proposal were to provide a cost effective solution to the processing and rapid delivery to the astronomical community of key science data products from ESO imaging and spectroscopic survey telescopes. This involved the further development and operational execution of advanced processing modules, and also updates to and maintenance of pipeline software, modules and documentation for delivery to ESO as part of an in-kind software contribution. The full calibrated world-class data products delivered by these processing pipelines are a crucial step for full science exploitation of the acquired data.
Exploitation Route Fully calibrated and optimally processed data are crucial ingredients for full science exploitation of observational data. The outputs from the CASU processing pipelines are world-class and provide the necessary inputs for a broad range of the subsequent astronomical research that is initiated by having these products available. These data products are used throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

The infrastructure required for optimal exploitation of astronomical survey data has lead to many innovative solutions to data processing and analysis problems which have wide applicability across all image processing domains. As an example, we have been carrying out a collaborative medical imaging research project helping develop analysis tools applicable to Tissue Micro Arrays used for research into cancer diagnostic markers.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Other

Description The primary objective of the CASU programme is to provide cost-effective and timely delivery of key science data and service products from the ESO VISTA and VST telescopes and a range of other high value UK optical and near-infrared missions including WFCAM, the ESO Gaia Large Survey Programme. The science product outputs from these missions are used by a large part of the astronomical community both nationally and internationally and form the underpinning observational data for a large range of key programmes.
First Year Of Impact 2005
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description ESO in-kind 
Organisation European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Country Germany 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Upgrading the VISTA data processing pipeline delivered to ESO. Developing new data processing pipelines for HawkI and VIMOS imaging systems. Processing all existing data for these instruments.
Collaborator Contribution CASU designed, developed and operate these deliverables.
Impact ESO SOW deliverables.
Start Year 2012
Description MoU JACH 
Organisation Joint Astronomy Centre
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution CASU undertakes data processing for all WFCAM data obtained on UKIRT
Collaborator Contribution CASU developed the data processing system and operates it on a 24/7 basis.
Impact The main beneficiary is the UKIDSS science consortium who have access to fully processed and calibrated near-infrared survey data.
Description Vista Data Flow System 
Organisation Royal Observatory Edinburgh
Department Wide Field Astronomy Unit
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaborative venture to process and archive ALL data obtained on the VISTA telescope run by ESO in Paranal.
Collaborator Contribution CASU handle all the data processing and calibration.
Impact All of the VISTA public survey programmes are dependent on this collaboration.
Start Year 2009
Description Talks to Astronomy Societies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talks to mainly amateur astronomy societies around the country. These are well-attended 50-100 participants and include much discussion and question/answer sessions.

Stimulates interest in science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013