Space/Optical Sciences

Space may be the final frontier, but at the University of Arizona, scientists labor to understand the origins of the Universe, Solar System, and Earth through novel scientific methods and super star technology development. Ranked Number 1 in NASA funding, the UA’s achievements in space-related research are known across the galaxy, from developing some of the world’s largest telescopes, to being the first public university to manage a space mission.

Core Competencies:

  • Astrophysics and Cosmology
  • Galactic, Star, Planet Formation
  • Astronomical Optics and Cameras
  • Space Mission Management and Development
  • Spacecraft Design and Development
  • Quantum and Applied Optics
  • Optical Communications
  • Medical Imaging and Bio-optics
  • Optical Engineering and Testing
  • Remote Sensing
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Laser and Advanced Optical Material
  • Nanotechnology
  • Fiber Optics
  • Optical Design and Fabrication

Within the Department of Astronomy and the Steward Observatory, the Department of Planetary Sciences and the Lunar and Planery Laboratory, and the College of Optical Sciences, UA faculty explore cosmology and astrophysics, star and planet formation, astrobiology, galactic formation, and astronomical optics to name a few subjects. UA research has helped elucidate the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, build cameras that have been installed in the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, and develop scientific missions that have been launched into space on crafts such as Cassini, which has produced the clearest and most detailed images of Saturn to date. The UA-led Phoenix Mars Mission, launched in 2007, was designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian Arctic’s ice-rich soil. "Not only did we find water ice, as expected, but the soil chemistry and minerals we observed lead us to believe this site had a wetter and warmer climate in the recent past -- the last few million years -- and could again in the future," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the UA Planetary Sciences Department.

What’s next for these star trekkers? The answer may lie in the College of Optical Science, home to cutting-edge research in vital areas of optics, and one of the premier optics educational programs in the nation. Optics exploration is organized into three focus areas. Quantum optics accounts for 25% of the College’s activities. Applied optics, including research on optical communications, remote sensing, medical imaging and bio-optics accounts for the majority of research. The third area is in optical engineering, primarily through the world-renowned Mirror Lab. The College has spun off five first generation companies, which in turn, have spun off 32 second generation companies. One of the largest optics companies in Southern Arizona, Breault Research Organization, was founded by a UA Optical Sciences graduate. The connection between the UA College of Optical Sciences and the industrial community in optics is quite clear – Tucson was given the moniker “Optics Valley” more than 15 years ago in reference to its large concentration of optical science research and development firms, most of which employ UA optics graduates.