About Me

I am a postdoctoral researcher working in astronomical instrumentation and exoplanetary science at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), USA. I was born and brought up in North West Greater London, UK, and since then, due to the nature of my work, I have had the opportunity to travel and live in different countries. My research work focuses primarily on characterising the limitations of ground based visbile/infra-red telescopes and finding ways to correct for them.

Contact Details

Saavidra Perera
Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences
University of California San Diego
9500 Gilman Dr
CA 92093, USA

sperera @ ucsd.edu


Durham Unviersity

Doctor of Philosophy Oct 2013 - Oct 2017

PhD Project: "Characterising and Correcting Atmospheric Seeing for Astronomy" - Successfully designed, developed and deployed the Shack-Hartmann Image Motion Monitor, a low-cost portable seeing monitor. The work included simulating the instrument and optical atmospheric propagation, aligning the optics, on-site testing at the La Palma observatory and comparing results with SCIDAR. This work led to a collaboration with Andres Guesalaga from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, for the combined FASS-SHIMM turbulence profiler instrument. A prototype of the FASS-SHIMM was installed in 2018 at Paranal (see below). Supervisors: Dr. R. W. Wilson & Prof. R. Myers

Imperial College London

MSci Physics: Upper Second Class Oct 2008 - Jul 2012

MSci. Project: "Characterising the Atomic Fluctuations of Ovens used in Ion Traps" - Optimising ovens used in the Imperial College Penning trap to produce calcium ions. Work entailed research into thin film physics, working with rotatory and ion vacuum pumps and handling liquid nitrogen. Supervisor: Prof. R. Thompson


University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Postdoctoral Researcher January 2021 - Present

  • Working in the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) team for the GPI2.0 upgrade.
  • Main focus is on the building, testing and integration fo the new pyramid wavefront sensor into the the GPI2.0 instrument.
  • GPI2.0 will be mounted on the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, USA.

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA)

Postdoctoral Researcher July 2018 - October 2020

  • Working on P-REx which reconstructs the piston drift caused by the atmosphere for interferometric telescopes, such as LBTI and VLTI.
  • Using pseudo open loop CIAO WFS data for P-REx to compare with GRAVITY's fringe tracking data.
  • Collaborative work with Steward Observatory to analyse archival fringe tracking and science data from the LBTI nulling mode to characterise data quality with respect to telescope vibrations.
  • Supported the SOUL AO observations for the LBTI.
  • Collaborative work with Kalyan Radhakrishnan on predictive wind speed technique for partially illuminated high layer conjugated WFS for LINC NIRVANA.

Durham University (based at PUC)

Postdoctoral Researcher January - July 2018

  • Based in Santiago, Chile at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile for six months commissioning the FASS-SHIMM instrument
  • Collaborative work between ESO, PUC and Durham University
  • Polar alignment, sky model, autoguiding, data acquisition, installation of the instrument, on-sky testing.
  • Analysis of SHIMM data.
  • Produced technical documentation, user manual and installation of the instrument and the software.

Oxford University

Intern October 2012 - April 2013

  • Six month work placement in the Astrophysics Instrumentation Group at Oxford University.
  • Worked with Ansoft’s HFSS to design and simulate a dual polarisation feed, comprised of a horn and OMT, as part of collaboration with M-Microwave.

Astronomisch Onderzoek (ASTRON)

Intern June 2012 - August 2012

  • Research project titled "Properties of faint sources of the LOFAR-EoR observing windows".
  • Work involved comparing radio spectra with images to identify sources and to see if any exhibited unexpected properties.
  • Project required the use of LOFAR data reduction and imaging packages and basic MATLab to analyse spectra. In addition, data form FIRST Survey, SDSS and NED were used for comparison.
  • Supervised by Dr. Panos Labropoulos.

European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Intern July 2010 - September 2010

  • Data analysis of stars belonging to the open cluster NGC 6866.
  • Analysis involved data reduction, spectral and luminosity classification, activity comparisons and calculating radial velocities using IDL
  • Supervised by Dr. Gaitee Hussain

Key Areas of Research

  • Adaptive Optics: Simulating AO systems under different atmospheric conditions, using AO telemetry from systems such as CIAO at the VLT and SOUL at the LBT. Using AO telemetry to estimate wind velocity and coherence time. In addition, operating SOUL for LBTI observations.
  • Exoplanetary Science: I have a keen interest in exoplanetary science and am currently using KPIC data for Doppler Imaging and applying ADI techniques to LBTI data.
  • Interferometry: Experience using LBTI and VLTI fringe tracking data for the P-REx project.
  • Optical Atmospheric Turbulence Profiling: Developing profiling instruments and techniques to estimate atmospheric parameters such as seeing, scintillation, coherence time and isoplanatic angle.

Technical Skills

  • Programming Languages: Proficient in Python, basic programming in C++ and experience in IDL, MATLab and html.
  • Operating Systems: Proficient used of Linux, OSX and Windows.
  • Software Development: Built software to interface with CCD and EMCCD detectors based on SDK of the providers. Co-developed the autoguiding software for a telescope (VX) Mount. Developed data acquisition and real-time data analysis of the SHIMM.
  • Lab Work: Experience in optical alignment. Worked with NTM and VX mounts, (EM)CCDs, liquid nitrogen and different vacuum pumps.
  • Observations: Observed with SOUL AO system for the LBTI on the LBT. Observationed with the SHIMM five times and FASS-SHIMM five times.

Other Skills

  • Networking: Co-founded the Network of Young Researchers in Instrumentation for Astrophysics (NYRIA), created and maintain the NYRIA blog (see below) and been part of the organisational team for every annual meeting. Organised and hosted the meeting at Durham University in 2016.
  • Communication: Coordinating with different staff members at Paranal during the commissioning of the FASS-SHIMM, especially important since I worked solo at night on the tower.
  • Teaching and Supervising: Supervised PhD student for 4 weeks and demonstrated in undergraduate Python computing labs.
  • Committees: At Durham University served as a post-graduate representative for three years, on the Diversity and Equality Committee for two years and basketball team social secretary for two years.
  • Initiated Collaborations: Including but not limited to with Faustine Cantalloube (MPIA) on SPHERE, Kalyan Radhikrishnan on LINC-NIRVANA (Padova), Gabriele Rodighiero on MICADO (MPIA) and Alexander Chaushev (Berlin TU) on forecasting at SAAO.
  • Languages: Native English speaker and basic Spanish.
  • Sport: Three years basketball for Ustinov Women's Basketball Team at Durham University and avid gym-goer.


Outreach is a great tool for inspiring the public about science. It can be a way to encourage people of all ages to get involved, to break down stereotypes and explain why we as a society should invest in research and development.

The OIRLab at UCSD offers Cosmic Tours, which offers portable planetarium shows to local schools and communities. I have had the opportunity to volunteer for these shows as well as for activities run by UCSD's Postdoctoral Association.

The Haus der Astronomie (HdA) at MPIA offers many outreach events. They have an in-house planetarium where they showcase their work. As part of a competition, I was asked to do a voice-over of the "Checking Up in Einstein" show.

In the UK I was a STEM ambassador and throughout my postgraduate studies at Durham University I delivered many planetarium shows, organised lab tours, took part in a number of science festivals, and visited secondary schools. In addition, during my undergraduate degree, I volunteered at the Science Museum in London as an archival curator.


What Is NYRIA?

The Network for Young Researchers in Instrumentation for Astronomy (NYRIA) is an international network created with the intention to bring together early career researchers working in the field of VID/IR ground-based astronomical instrumentation. NYRIA aims to promote collaboration, the sharing of knowledge and experience and comradery in the field.

What Do We Do?

One of our key activities is our annual workshop. This is generally a small sized meeting (~30 attendees) hosted at different institutes each year. As part of the event all attendees present their work, we give tours of the host institute’s labs, organise a hack-a-thon, invite speakers to discuss research and a career in astronomical instrumentation, and organise social activities including a conference dinner. As well as this, we have a mailing list where we forward PhD and postdoc positions as well as conferences that might be of interest.

My Role

As one of the co-founders of NYRIA (see History of NYRIA) I co-run the network, help organise our annual meetings (including hosting one of our early events in Durham University in 2016) and created and maintain (with Felix Bosco) our website. I am currently in the process of creating a blog on the website where members can write articles about their research and experience as a researcher.

History of NYRIA

I, along with seven others, co-founded NYRIA after meeting at the "Reaching the limits of the sky, astronomical instrumentation in the 21st Century" summer school, in 2014. The summer school was an incredible experience and for most of us it was the first time to Chile and Paranal Observatory. We all got on like a house on fire and at the end of the two weeks it was sad to say our goodbyes. Most of us stayed in contact and those who were based in Europe decided to get together in Heidelberg, Germany, at MPIA. Those at MPIA organized a tour of the facilities and we gave talks to update each other on what we had done in the last year. In the end, we realized how special a community like ours was and from then on we decided to run annual workshops in different institutes, growing with each year, with attendees from across the globe.

Contact Us

Please visit the NYRIA website to get more information on what we do and what we have done. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.