Claire Max studies adaptive optics, a technology that can remove the blurring effects of the earth’s atmosphere and let telescopes on the ground “see” as clearly as if they were in space. She has worked to develop new adaptive optics techniques such as laser guide stars, artificial “stars” projected from the ground to help instruments adjust for that atmospheric distortion, and used them to study supermassive black holes in faraway colliding galaxies.
Max is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she directs the Center for Adaptive Optics. She is also project scientist for the Next Generation Adaptive Optics system at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and she led the team of researchers who developed the laser guide star systems at Keck and at UCSC’s Lick Observatory.
Max received her Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University and was a postdoctoral fellow in physics at UC Berkeley. For many years she worked as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore NationalLaboratory, where she was the founding director of LLNL’s branch of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. Max is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she received the Ernest O. Lawrence Award in Physics from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004.