Claire Ellen Max

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Claire E. Max (2008 photo)
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Claire E. Max

Claire Ellen Max (born 1946) is a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is affiliated with the Lick Observatory. She is the Director of the Center for Adaptive Optics at UCSC. In 1972 she received her Ph.D. in Astrophysical Sciences from Princeton University, following her B.A. degree in Astronomy from Harvard University, in 1968.

Following postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley, Max joined the scientific staff of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1974, working on problems in plasma physics relating to fusion technology. In 1984, she became the founding Director of the Livermore branch of the UC Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, and in 1995 she became the Director of University Relations. She joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz in 2001.

Max is best known for her contributions to the theory of adaptive optics as a technique for reducing the optical distortions of images taken through the turbulent atmosphere. This work began at the JASON Defense Advisory Group, which she joined in 1983 as its first female member. With her colleagues in JASON, she developed the idea of using an artificial laser guide star to correct astronomical images. In addition to continuing to develop this technology at the Center for Adaptive Optics, she now uses adaptive optics to study active galactic nuclei as well as planets in the Solar System.

Max received the E.O. Lawrence Award in Physics from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004, for her contributions to the theory of laser adaptive optics and the applications of adaptive optics to ground-based astronomy. She was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002, and is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the SPIE. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008.

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