Proud to be part of the radio telescope ALMA
I’d never thought of working at ALMA
Right now, as part of the ALMA Computing Group, I develop software used to analyze data obtained from ALMA. Although I’m currently working as an engineer, I was first employed by NAOJ as a researcher, and in graduate school I had conducted simulation astronomy research. These positions are related to my present job in that I wrote programs. But at the time, ALMA was still in the conceptual stage, so I’d never thought of joining the project.
I went to Nobeyama Radio Observatory as a Research Supporter first, and then applied to the ALMA project and was accepted as a research member of ALMA. I spent the first half-year preparing in Japan, then undertook a two-and-a-half-year long-term assignment in France. Engineers from various countries, such as the USA, UK, and France, gathered and worked together there. After that, I returned to Japan, but we hold teleconference or video conference meetings with foreign members almost every week. We even hold face-to-face meetings with all the members once or twice a year. When people from such different countries gather, so-called “national characteristics” appear in their work. For example, people from a certain country are very relaxed about their work. While adjusting to such a work atmosphere, I exemplified Japanese carefulness.
ALMA will continue to be the world’s most powerful telescope
Our Computing Group's job is to develop software for analyzing data obtained from ALMA, and then debug and improve the software. Observational data from ALMA are used by researchers around the world, so we need to produce processed results appropriate to the observation proposals adopted each year. Our job is to develop software for that purpose. ALMA observations entered Cycle 6 in October 2018 (note), and while the hardware for the observations has almost been completed, I’m not satisfied with the completeness of the software yet.
ALMA is the world’s most powerful radio telescope right now, and no other telescope will surpass it anytime soon. I think ALMA will evolve further and continue to be the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
I take pride in being involved in the ALMA project. I would like to work for ALMA forever, if possible.
(note) In ALMA observations, one year starting from October to the next September is defined as one cycle. Cycle 6 = 7th year
Properly creating what has been ordered is unexpectedly difficult
To put it bluntly, the work of us engineers is mundane compared to the work of researchers. Working steadily on assigned tasks …, that’s the point, as well as the real thrill.
ALMA starts a new year of observation proposals every October, and related software development starts preparing about a year in advance. We continue developing the software for one year, improving the existing functions and adding new ones. It's a great sense of accomplishment each year when we can say, “We're ready in time to start in October!” or “We've gotten the first processed data of the new season!” Properly creating what has been ordered is unexpectedly difficult and not very glamourous, but also very fulfilling.
In my current position, if I find something that looks interesting, I don’t do it myself; I ask other members to “work on it for a while.” One of my duties is passing on things I want to do myself.
Experiences in France largely encouraged my decision to take childcare leave
I have three daughters now, but I was probably only the second male employee in NAOJ to take childcare leave. I took childcare leave for 1 month, when my first daughter was born. Experiences in France largely encouraged my decision to take childcare leave. It seemed natural in France, and there was an atmosphere that family is the highest priority. Nobody worked overtime until late at night like in Japan. Having experiencing such a work place, I felt that is how it should be.
I often use the nursery room in NAOJ. Although both monthly and short-term services are available, I use the short-term services two to three times a month. When I have a parents' association meeting at my older daughters' school, I leave my youngest daughter in the nursery room. And when my wife says “I’m tired,” I leave my youngest daughter there to let my wife rest. As I commute by bike, I carry my daughter to the nursery room and say bye-bye. Then I pick her up in the afternoon and carry her back home.
Working in a private IT-company would be more profitable, but there are major advantages for me to work in this environment.
Interview Date: October 17, 2018 / Published: April 26, 2019
Interview & Article: Masami Usuda / Translation: Ryo Sato and Ramsey Lundock / Photo: Shogo Nagayama
With a few exceptions, the contents of this article are as of the interview date.