Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab
At the University of Arizona's Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers work together to make the giant, lightweight mirrors needed for the latest generation of optical and infrared telescopes.
The University of Arizona’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab is responsible for the technology driving many of the world’s most advanced and powerful telescopes.
At the Mirror Lab, scientists and engineers cast giant, lightweight mirrors in the unique and ingenious honeycomb structure, as UA Regents Professor of Astronomy Roger Angel originally designed in the 1980s. In fact, Angel was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015, in part for his revolutionary methods for manufacturing large-scale mirrors.
With financial support primarily from the US Air Force, the National Science Foundation and the UA, the Mirror Lab was built in 1980. In 1985, Angel—the lab’s director—and his team moved to the facility, located 50,000 seats below the east wing of the UA’s football stadium.
In 1997, the Mirror Lab cast its largest mirror yet: An 8.4-meter mirror for the Large Binocular Telescope. The lab has since cast state-of-the-art mirrors for telescopes including the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, Magellan Telescope, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Most recently, the Mirror Lab began casting all seven of the mirrors that will comprise Chile’s Giant Magellan Telescope, slated for completion in 2021. Each mirror will be 8.4 meters and weigh 12.5 tons.
Mirrors cast in the Mirror Lab can take years to complete. The first of the GMT’s seven mirrors took 7 years and nearly $30 million. The GMT mirrors are built by putting 20 tons of melting glass into a spinning furnace. Then, they are precisely cooled, grinded, and polished.
Under Angel’s leadership, the mirror lab has earned international recognition for producing the mirrors for a new generation of extremely large optical and infrared telescopes.