Instrument Engineer

Updated: 3 months ago
Location: Pasadena, CALIFORNIA

Caltech is a world-renowned science and engineering institute that marshals some of the world's brightest minds and most innovative tools to address fundamental scientific questions. We thrive on finding and cultivating talented people who are passionate about what they do. Join us and be a part of the diverse Caltech community.


Job Summary

Caltech Optical Observatories (COO) is seeking a talented instrument engineer to join its Optical and Infrared (OIR) Instrumentation group. The OIR group designs, fabricates, and commissions advanced astronomical instrumentation for Palomar, Keck, and the Thirty Meter Telescope while fostering a community of respect, learning, and individual growth. The qualified engineer will provide technical contributions through all project phases, including conceptualization, detailed design, integration, testing, commissioning, and servicing as a key member of multidisciplinary teams pushing back the frontiers of planetary science, astronomy, and cosmology.

Diversity and inclusivity are core values at Caltech and the COO. We are passionate about building and sustaining an inclusive and equitable work environment for all. We believe every member of our team enriches our diversity by exposing us to a broad range of ways to understand and engage with the world, identify challenges, and discover, design, and deliver unique and world-class astronomical instruments.

This position is based on the Caltech University campus in Pasadena, California, but will require occasional travel to Palomar Mountain, San Diego, California, and Maunakea, Hawaii. COO encourages a healthy work-life balance, with work schedule flexibility and results-oriented performance evaluation and mentorship.

Essential Job Duties

     The successful Instrument Engineer will have technical and financial cognizance for all aspects of instrumentation projects and is expected to:

  • Design, construct, modify, and service astronomical instruments.
  • Perform instrument requirements capture, use case development, and flow-down to engineering specifications, including performing technical analyses and developing instrument performance models.
  • Develop and execute instrument assembly, integration, and validation plans for laboratory, cleanroom, and mountaintop environments.
  • Develop and execute assembly, integration, and verification plans for deployment and commissioning of instruments at operating observatories.
  • Execute detailed technical tasks in three or more of the following discipline areas: systems engineering, optics, fibers, mechanics, electronics, detector engineering, software engineering, data science, and operations optimization.
  • Communicate clearly through written project technical and financial reports to project internal, US, and international partners.
  • Prepare and deliver clear technical presentations.
  • Perform technical contract management of one or several sub-systems or optical components developed by observatory partners or industrial suppliers.
  • Support related projects through participation in design and document reviews.
  • Conceptualize, prototype, and refine new instrumentation concepts consistent with COO user community scientific priorities.
  • Support the COO in other activities as needed.
  • Will require occasional travel and work assignments at high altitudes, and/or in limited light environments.
  • Will require occasional nighttime schedules.

Basic Qualifications

  • Ph.D. in astronomy, physics, engineering, or related field and 2 years’ experience, or equivalent.
  • Capable of independent, original design work including astronomical cameras, spectrographs, robotic positioners, fiber optic systems and active/adaptive optics systems.
  • Effective, hands-on technical contributions to multidisciplinary engineering and science teams.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills and ability to lead technical peers and work collegially with astronomical faculty.
  • Broad knowledge of experimental physics and multidisciplinary engineering principles.
  • Capability with formal systems engineering including requirements engineering, error budget analysis and requirements flow-down, formal interface control, and risk assessment and mitigation strategies.
  • Recognized technical excellence in three or more of the following instrumentation sub-disciplines: optical, photonic, mechanical, electrical, or detector engineering; cryo-vacuum systems; adaptive optics; controls; software engineering; or robotics.
  • Successful development of instrument control software using professional software development processes, both individually and within distributed software development efforts.
  • Expertise in developing instrument performance simulations.
  • Experience with instrument and/or data pipeline software development in a team environment with emphasis on efficiency, automation, maintainability, and extensibility.
  • Creativity and innovative development of new instrumentation techniques and component technologies for furthering precision, grasp, multiplex, and efficiency across a wide domain of astrophysical measurements.
  • Demonstrated strong laboratory integration and testing skills including, but not limited to, proper understanding of cryogenic instruments, alignment and assembly tolerances, metrology systems, automated data acquisition systems, statistical analysis, and computer/hardware interfaces.
  • Enthusiasm to make impactful contributions, individually and within instrumentation teams, to further human knowledge and understanding.
  • Ability to lift 20 lbs.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Expertise in spectrograph, camera, and adaptive optics systems design and performance optimization, high-contrast imaging techniques and/or high-resolution spectroscopy.
  • Independent publication record in astronomical instrumentation and international recognition of past achievements.
  • Design, assembly, and testing experience with astronomical instruments.
  • Knowledge of fiber optic principles and properties as related to astronomical applications and best handling practices.
  • Experience with characterizing optical/infrared astronomical detectors.
  • This position requires a pre-employment DMV check and successful physical including vision screening.

Required Documents

  • Resume


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