mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

University of Hawaiʻi Astronomer John Tonry Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Maintained by RRG

For immediate release
May 3, 2018


John Tonry

Dr. Roy Gal
Media Contact
+1 808-956-6235
cell: +1 808-388-8690

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa astronomer John Tonry has been named as one of the National Academy of Sciences' 84 newly chosen members. Tonry, who has been with the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy since 1996, joins an elite group of fewer than 2,400 exceptional scientists worldwide. NAS members are recognized for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Tonry is an expert in developing technologies to survey the sky to find moving and variable objects such as exploding stars and asteroids. He is currently spearheading the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) project, a pair of half-meter telescopes that patrol the entire visible sky twice per night to provide warning of an asteroid on its final, impact trajectory. He has played a fundamental role in developing the Pan-STARRS survey, the world's leading observatory for detecting comets, asteroids, and other variable and moving objects.

"This is well-deserved recognition for John's outstanding contributions to astronomical research - including the High-z Supernovae Program, Pan-STARRS, and most recently ATLAS," said UH Institute for Astronomy Director Bob McLaren.

John has worked in the development of innovative CCD camera sensors; he co-invented the Orthogonal Transfer CCD, which can shift charge in all four directions. These devices allow astronomers to move the accumulating electrons around on the detector itself to follow objects as they are distorted by the atmosphere, reducing blurring and producing sharper images.

Combining his expertise in creating imaging devices, wide-field cameras, and cosmology, John was an integral part of early searches for Type Ia supernovae - exploding white dwarf stars that can be used to measure distances to far-flung galaxies. Such beacons, seen across the age of the universe, can tell us whether the expansion of the universe has changed significantly since the Big Bang, This work became part of the 1996 announcement that the universe is undergoing an accelerating expansion because of "dark energy" - a discovery that was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Throughout his career, John has leveraged a rare combination of scientific and technological insight and innovation to address a diverse array of questions in astronomy. His research has spanned fields from the expansion of the universe, through galaxy distances, to identifying life-threatening asteroids.

John Tonry with Gigapixel Camera

UH Institute for Astronomy astronomer John Tonry inspects the Pan-STARRS gigapixel camera, the world's largest digital camera at the time it was built.
Photo by R. J. Wainscoat

See also:
The National Academy of Sciences press release
John Tonry's webpage.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakalā and Maunakea. The Institute operates facilities on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaiʻi.