Kevin Volk's Home Page

HST image of NGC 6302, courtesy of NASA/HST (from a press release)

Kevin Volk

CSA NIRISS Support Astronomer
Space Telescope Science Institute

3700 San Martin Drive
Baltimore, MD 21218 USA
Phone: 410-338-4409
Fax: 410-338-4211
E-mail: volk AT

Current Position

I am working at STScI in Baltimore as a support astronomer for the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph/Fine Guidance Sensor, which is part of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope mission. The instrument was built by the Canadian Space Agency. As part of this effort my position at STScI is supported from Canada. The NIRISS instrument was previously the Tunable Filter Imager (TFI).

Before moving to Baltimore in the spring of 2009 I had spent 6 years at Gemini Observatory, mostly supporting the mid-infrared instruments Michelle and T-ReCS. Switching to support of the NIRISS instrument, which is completely different in design and wavelength range than the thermal infrared astronomy I was used to, was quite a big change in duties. So now I know a lot more about HgCdTe detectors and grisms than I did before I started here. In many ways I find calibration more interesting than doing science.

Since late March 2014 I have been resident in Alberta, Canada, while still working at STScI. Thanks to the internet and teleworking initiatives I am able to carry out my work while only being physically present at STScI part of the time. I am grateful to the people at CSA, HIA, and STScI who have supported my relocation back to Canada from the United States while allowing me to continue working on the project.

What is a "Support Astronomer" anyway?

One might ask what I do when the NIRISS instrument will not be in operation on JWST until early 2021 at best. Well, my main focus is on the calibration of NIRISS. The type of things that I am working on include:

This means in practical terms that (a) I write a lot of reports on these things and (b) I have more than 2 TByte of ground test data on which I have carried out analysis. Some of this analysis is still going on.

Useful Links

Research Interests

Over the years I have gotten more interested in calibration than in the research end of things, in part because there is far more work in the calibration end of things than I have time to do, let alone finding time for science. However I still try to keep an eye on work concerning the following topics:

Research Collaborators

My research is done in cooperation with various people including:

Publication Lists

The list of my refereed publications is here. This is from the ADS Abstract Service searched for "K. Volk" with the papers by Karen Volk, Klaus Volk, Kathryn Volk, and Katharina Volk removed from the list. I have not found a way to search only for my papers without getting at least a few of these other people's papers as well.

A listing of all of my bibliographic references is here.

My publication totals are currently 108 published papers, 3 Errata notes, and 117 other bibliographic references. On the other hand I am the first author on only 21 refereed papers in total; this is partially because I like doing the work better than I like writing up papers once the work is done.

Review Talk at the IAU General Assembly Special Session 16

I attended (part of) the IAU General Assembly in Beijing (August 20-31, 2012) and gave an invited review talk on the 21 and 30 micron features in carbon star spectra at the special session on "Unexplained Spectral Phenomena in the Interstellar Medium". The powerpoint file for the talk can be downloaded at this link. Note that it is a moderately large file (about 18 MBytes) due to having a number of plots/images inside. Whether it will make sense without my words that go along with it is a good question. I wrote a conference paper based on the talk, but that is limited to 2 pages so it is not very detailed. Possibly I will expand the review into a regular publication, if I can figure out where to publish such a thing. It was a fair amount of work getting the review together, but it was educational. Looking at the basics afresh once in a while is quite useful.

Style in Science:

The following front two pages of an astronomy paper from 1865 and the associated colour plate (probably from a colour drawing of the spectra) may be of interest. The style of scientific papers has changed mightily in the 150 years between this paper and ones published now.

I am not sure that the current style is an improvement. At least, not when I write papers. Some others may have more style in writing papers than I do.

End Word:

If you think that you know the right answer to something, the following may give you food for thought: there might be another interpretation that you did not think of.

(Note: the original version of the above image adds "They are also usually wrong." under the word "Simplicity". However I do not like that: there is a big difference between "wrong" and "not what was intended". That is my point here. If the question had said "Find the length of side x", that would have avoided this possible interpretation. And yes of course I know that this is implied in the context of the question, but some of us are literal minded.)