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Rubin Observatory's First All-Virtual PCW

Tuesday, August 18, 2020
This is a representative photo compiled from various recent Rubin Observatory virtual meetings
This is a representative photo compiled from various recent Rubin Observatory virtual meetings

August 18, 2020 - Rubin Observatory's very first all-virtual Project and Community Workshop (PCW) took place August 10-14, 2020, and it was a resounding success. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the first in-person PCW (then referred to as an all-hands meeting), which was held at the Dove Mountain resort in Tucson, AZ in 2010. That's the year—the week, in fact—that LSST was announced as the #1 priority in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, and the 2010 meeting attendees celebrated the occasion with a champagne toast. The Rubin 2020 PCW might have been a bit short on champagne, but it was by far the most well-attended meeting to date, with more than 700 people registered, representing nearly every time-zone in the world! Each day's core sessions were conducted in English, and Rubin colleagues in Chile also presented daily in Spanish for all interested participants; topics for these sessions included specific parts of the project where hands-on work is performed by teams in Chile. All sessions at PCW 2020 were recorded and are available for viewing at this link

The week kicked off with an overview plenary session, in which Rubin Construction Project Director Steven Kahn presented on subjects that included the recent renaming of Large Synoptic Survey Telescope to Vera C. Rubin Observatory, and an update on the Project's actions in response to this spring's #Strike4BlackLives and #ShutDownSTEM movements. Victor Krabbendam, Rubin Construction Project Manager, followed with a presentation on the Project's progress over the last year, and its current status, including the most current information about the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 construction shutdown. 

Monday's schedule also included four parallel sessions. "An Introduction to Rubin Observatory: Systems, Jargon, and Acronyms" provided an overview on different aspects of the complex Rubin Observatory Project, highlighting additional resources. The Data Management team facilitated the "Rubin Algorithms Workshop Follow-up: Answers to Community Questions" session, which addressed questions raised by the Rubin Observatory Algorithms Workshop in March 2020. The final sessions of the day were "External Synergies for Rubin Community Science," in which participants discussed combining Rubin data with other facilities to expand the science that can be done during the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), and "Community Support for Science with Rubin Observatory," which introduced a new group, led by Melissa Graham, that will facilitate communications between Rubin and the science community during Rubin Operations: the Community Engagement Team (CET).

Tuesday's agenda began with four Lightning Stories, which have become a popular annual feature at the PCW. José Pinto, Nicole Auza, Glenaver Charles-Emerson, and Kevin Siruno introduced themselves to the project in short, pre-recorded videos, sharing highlights from their personal and professional lives. This was followed by a plenary panel session on Rubin Operations, in which the Operations leadership team gave short presentations and answered questions from participants.

The meeting's only significant technical issue occurred when attendees were blocked from logging into some of the ten parallel sessions for Rubin Research Bytes, a virtual substitute for the poster presentations given at the in-person workshop. Fortunately, comments on the #help Slack channel identified the scope of the problem quickly, as well as a collaborative solution (some session leaders switched to personal or institutional Zoom accounts) that enabled the talks to begin after only a short delay. Tuesday wrapped up with breakout sessions on Commissioning and Validation, and an In-kind Proposal Workshop. Participants engaged in lively discussions in both of these sessions; these discussions continued on Slack after the conclusion of the live events.

On Wednesday, meeting participants were treated to four more Lightning Stories, from Adam Thornton, Suzanne Jacoby, Chris Mendez, and Tiago Ribeiro. The morning plenary followed: Federica Bianco, Coordinator for the Rubin Observatory/LSST Science Collaborations, gave an overview of the eight Collaborations, including why scientists should consider joining them. Then, a representative from each Collaboration reported on its structure and activities and answered questions from attendees. Breakout sessions on Wednesday included Community Evaluation of Rubin Survey Strategies, a repeat of Tuesday's In-kind proposal workshop, and Community Preparation for Early Science with Rubin Observatory.

Dr. Brian Nord's keynote science talk on Thursday morning, "From Disruption, Opportunity: the current and future impact of AI on astronomy," was one of the biggest highlights of the week, drawing over 300 people on the live webinar. Brian began his talk with a description of the history and current state of AI and its applications for astronomy, and ended with a stark warning about the societal dangers that AI could enable (and in some cases, is already enabling), if we don't take action to disrupt current societal structures and power dynamics.

An update on the development of Community Alert Brokers, who will help enable user science with the Rubin Alert Stream, and a session on LSST Corporation fundraising efforts followed the morning plenary. The final sessions of the day were "Low Surface Brightness Science with Rubin Observatory data", and an interactive Education and Public Outreach session in which participants were invited to test out, and provide feedback about, the Formal Education investigations that the EPO team is currently developing.

Friday began with a well-attended session, "A Roadmap to a more Just, Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Rubin Observatory," that introduced the Theory of Change framework as a way of identifying actionable steps towards a high-level goal, and sparked discussions that will continue in other channels (including #inclusion on LSSTC Slack) after the workshop. Two parallel sessions followed: The LSST Corporation facilitated "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in New Programs," and the Stack Club hosted "New Science Platform Tutorials." The workshop then concluded with a session in which the Session Chairs presented a short summary from each session.

Many thanks to the Program Organizing Committee, led by Ranpal Gill, and the Scientific Organizing Committee, led by Melissa Graham, for making Rubin 2020 a productive and successful virtual meeting! We're all hopeful that next year's PCW can be an in-person event; it is currently scheduled for August 9-13, 2021, in Tucson, Arizona.

Financial support for Rubin Observatory comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Cooperative Agreement No. 1258333, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science under Contract No. DE-AC02-76SF00515, and private funding raised by the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded Rubin Observatory Project Office for construction was established as an operating center under management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).  The DOE-funded effort to build the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera (LSSTCam) is managed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science. NSF supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.
NSF and DOE will continue to support Rubin Observatory in its Operations phase. They will also provide support for scientific research with LSST data.   

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