Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array research & development

Image credit: ALMA (ES/NAOJ/NRAO), Adhemar Duro

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the world's most powerful radio telescope and the largest ground-based astronomy endeavour ever undertaken. Located high in the Chilean Andes, ALMA is composed of 66 12-metre and 7-metre high-precision radio antennas that work together at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths.

Funded and operated by an international partnership involving 22 countries from North America, Europe, East Asia, and South America, ALMA lets astronomers observe phenomena that were previously out of reach, providing new insight into the origin and formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

ALMA is a revolutionary instrument in its scientific concept, its engineering design and its organization as a global scientific endeavour. The National Research Council (NRC) collaborates with the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory as part of the North American component of ALMA. In this role, the NRC is involved in governance and operational support of the astronomy community, including facilitating telescope access for Canadian researchers, and collaborating with industry and other research partners on new and novel instrumentation.

Collaboration opportunities

While the Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) is responsible for the overall leadership and management of the telescope, three international ALMA Regional Centres (ARC) provide an interface between ALMA and the astronomy community. Astronomers at Canadian institutions are supported by the North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC) based in Charlottesville, VA with additional support from a team based at the NRC's Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) in Victoria, BC. The NRC also collaborates with other ARCs located in Europe and East Asia.

Technology in support of science: instrumentation projects

As part of the construction, commissioning, and operation of ALMA, the NRC works with industry and universities to develop new and ever more powerful astronomical technology. The NRC has worked on several technical components of the ALMA telescope, developing innovative technologies that make ALMA's unique capabilities possible.

Today, the NRC remains engaged with ALMA technology development. Canada's most recent collaborative technology developments include a design study for a millimetre camera and a project to improve the power stability of the ALMA Band 3 receiver using permanent magnets.

ALMA Band 3 receiver cartridges

The NRC developed the Band 3 (84-116 GHz) receiver cartridges for ALMA, and is responsible for their ongoing maintenance. The project, valued at more than $20 million, involved an in-house team of up to 15 experts who collaborated with researchers and engineers from 4 continents. Ongoing maintenance duties will gradually be transferred to the ALMA site.

ALMA Band 1

ALMA Band 1, covering 35-52 GHz, has been the focus of attention by a consortium formed by the NRC, ASIAA in Taiwan, the University of Chile and the NRAO in Chile. The NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre has provided the orthomode transducer (OMT) components to this development project.

Advancing our understanding of the universe: science projects

Since early science research began at ALMA in September 2011 it has expanded our knowledge of the known universe. ALMA enables transformational research into the physics of the cold universe, regions that are optically dark but emit strongly in the millimetre portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Providing astronomers a new window on celestial origins, ALMA probes the first stars and galaxies and directly images the disks in which planets are forming. Through current collaborative research projects, the NRC is advancing scientific knowledge through projects focused on star formation, molecular clouds, the solar system and the early universe.

Soul of Lupus with ALMA (SOLA)

SOLA is a large program to carry out a comprehensive study of the Lupus molecular clouds and their internal star formation processes. This ambitious project will address several key questions about star formation, including the role played by angular momentum, magnetic fields, as well as jets and outflows. The consortium is composed of a large team of scientists from most of the countries involved in the ALMA project, including several NRC staff members.

Contact us

To find out more about our collaborative research and technology development at ALMA, please contact:

Brenda Matthews

Targeted industries

Astronomy, Aerospace, Information & communications technology

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