Robert A. Simcoe

Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics
Director, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research
Studies formation of the earliest stars and galaxies by constructing custom built spectrometers for major astronomical observatories.

Research Interests

  • Spectroscopy of matter in the early universe to search for signatures of the First Stars
  • Physics of diffuse matter at the interface between galaxies and intergalactic space
  • Explosive astrophysical transients, especially those associated with gravitational wave events
  • Design and construction of astronomical telescopes and instrumentation

Biographical Sketch

Rob Simcoe is a native of Westborough, Massachusetts, where he first acquired an interest in astronomy and telescope making as a family hobby through trips to the Stellafane convention. As an undergraduate, he participated in development of the photometric camera for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, after which he moved to Caltech for graduate school. While there, he collaborated with Mark Metzger on construction of a prime focus camera for the 200″ Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory, and completed a thesis on chemical enrichment of the intergalactic medium with Wal Sargent, using the Keck Telescopes. In 2003 he moved to MIT as a Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellow, to make use of the newly commissioned 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes, and joined the MIT faculty in 2006. Three years later he installed the FIRE infrared spectrometer at Magellan, which has played a key role in exploration of cool stars in the nearby universe, and the discovery and characterization high redshift quasars and measurements of intergalactic matter in the first billion years after the Big Bang. His research group is now focused on construction of a new hyperspectral imager for Magellan named LLAMAS, as well as the first dedicated telescope using InGaAs detectors for astronomical surveys of the transient infrared sky, and preparations for scheduled observations with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. In 2019 Simcoe was appointed Director of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

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Awards & Honors

  • 2017 // Kingsley Distinguished Visiting Professor, Caltech
  • 2016-17 // Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • 2009-12 // Arthur P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship