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Charlotte Lee

Winter 2023

The Production of Astronomical Knowledge in the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST)

We are seeking a small group of 2-4 doctoral, masters and/or undergraduate students interested in studying the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time. 

The Rubin Observatory in Chile is slated to come online next year and begin the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), a wide angle, decade-long survey of the southern night sky. The LSST will leverage the largest digital camera ever created to produce what has been described as a 10-year long high definition video of the cosmos. This will give scientists the ability to track changes and movement over time, and in turn ask fundamental questions about the past and future of our solar system, the composition of the universe, and much more. The telescope will produce data of unprecedented size and speed, churning out 20 terabytes of raw data nightly and hundreds of petabytes of processed data over the course of the decade. Data releases will be made available broadly within the astronomy community at regular intervals, some nightly and some annually. 

The scale, immediacy, and openness of LSST data will ostensibly obviate many of the tradeoffs that characterized the preceding era of optical astronomy by sidestepping competition for access and observing time at scarce facilities. As such, LSST has the potential to democratize the field of astronomy by dramatically increasing access to astronomical data. At the same time, LSST data can only be made useful through the collaborative development and use of novel computational tools and techniques capable of handling the volume and velocity of data produced by the Rubin telescope. As such, the LSST has been imagined and structured as a convergent endeavor involving coordination and sense-making among astrophysicists, data scientists, and software engineers. 

This DRG will be jointly led by Dr. Anissa Tanweer, Research Scientist at the eScience Institute and Will Sutherland, PhD Candidate in HCDE, with supervision and guidance from Dr. Charlotte Lee of HCDE. Our own goal in this project is to better understand the negotiation of access in this new model of big data astronomy exemplified by the LSST. 

Students in this DRG will be part of exploratory research that will kick off longer-term ethnographic inquiry into the LSST project and the communities that support it. Some of the broad questions that may be of interest include: 

  • What does the role of software in analyzing LSST mean for who gets included in the production of astronomical knowledge? 
  • How does LSST membership, access to LSST data, and access to software tools mediate the production of scientific knowledge across various kinds of teams, experts, and institutions?
  • How does the availability of LSST data open up new directions of inquiry in astronomy, and what are the implications for how the field—and society more broadly—come to understand the universe? 

We anticipate that students will benefit from the following opportunities in this DRG: 

  • Development of qualitative ethnographic research skills, including interviews, field observations, and/or documentary analysis
  • Exposure to theories about the organization of knowledge production
  • Window into the making of cutting-edge scientific research
  • Contribution to the early stages of planning for long term ethnographic research with the chance to influence the trajectory of that work
  • Possibility of longer-term collaborations


  • This DRG is open to doctoral, master’s and undergraduate students interested in taking 3-5 DRG credits in Winter ‘23. 
  • We also anticipate running this DRG in Spring ‘23 and hope for continuity among participants. 
  • The DRG will likely meet on the sixth floor of the Physics/Astronomy Tower (location will be confirmed later).
  • The meeting day and time will be one that is agreed upon by all participants. 
  • Interested students should fill out this application form.

Dr. Lee's Research Group archive