K a t h y  F l a n a g a n
Instrument Builder and Supernova researcher
MIT and the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Kathy and ACIS (Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer) one of two focal plane instruments on Chandra.
What's a typical day like for you?

On a typical day now with Chandra, I will sit down at a computer and begin analysis of the data that we have taken with the Observatory. About two years ago, a typical day would have been dramatically different: preparations for launch and calibration and so forth took up entirely different segments of time and attention.

What's the most fun thing about what you do with Chandra?

Well, I think the most fun thing about Chandra is... every day feels like a new discovery, which is a bit of a shock to me. My background is hardware, and I expected, and hoped, that all the instruments on board Chandra would work but I didn't really expect to discover as many interesting things as I have. That's probably the most fun thing about Chandra.

The other is the opportunity, I think, to do something that matters and to work with people who are driven and passionate about what they do.

I think the technology and the science absolutely must walk hand-in-hand. My background is with both, actually. ...In the case of Chandra, I have worked on two of the science instruments on Chandra, and I'm now taking data with it. Without having an idea of what is required to do the job properly, without having a good idea of the science, I probably wouldn't have worked out as well on the instrumentation and the hardware. It may not have been exactly what we needed, but it is.

Kathy demonstrating the spectrum.
Is it more fun to build an instrument, or to find out something about the Universe?

It's a hard question to know whether it's more fun to build an instrument or to answer a question about the universe with it. To me, they're so intimately linked; it would be difficult to separate one. I think I would have said, two years ago, that I loved instrument building, and I definitely do love instrument building, but now I have to say also, I love using the instrument for the science, so I can't answer the question of which one I love more.

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