Nicholas M. Law

Assistant Professor

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Astronomical Instrumentation, Exoplanets and Very Wide Field Surveys

My research is based on the new generation of very large time-domain sky surveys and adaptive optics instruments, with a focus on using them for exoplanet detection and characterization. My major projects are listed below.

email: nmlaw around

office phone: 919 962 3019

Current Projects

UNC-CH students: please feel free to contact me to discuss research projects in any of the below areas.


Robo-AO is the first robotic laser guide star adaptive optics system. Our small team built it for extremely high-efficiency observing on the Palomar 60-inch telescope. Robo-AO is in full science operation, covering 200+ targets a night for projects ranging from our Kepler-exoplanet chacterization programs to the most-comprehensive binarity survey of nearby stars.

Novel Extremely Wide-Field Survey Instruments

My group is pioneering new extremely wide-field survey instruments that use mass-produced consumer camera and sensor technology to dramatically lower costs compared to conventional survey instruments. Our prototype survey continually monitors about 1200 square degrees around the North Celestial Pole, searching for exoplanets transiting bright stars.

We based our prototype survey at a site in the Canadian High Arctic, close to the North Pole, where the winter's continuous darkness greatly improves our exoplanet detection efficiency. Our robotic cameras have already operated throughout winter 2012/2013 (2013 sunrise here), returned over 20TB of data, and will continue to operate in 2013/2014. A paper on the first run's results is here.

The next step is the Evryscope (from the Greek for wide-seer), a massively-multiplexed version of the survey with an array of 23 telescopes continuously observing the entire sky.

PTF/M-dwarfs (PI) -- Mining Supernova Survey Data for Exoplanet Transits

PTF/M-dwarfs is a search for giant planets around M-dwarfs using data from the Palomar Transient Factory, as well as followup by other telescopes. We are developing ways to efficiently mine the nearly-100TB PTF supernova-search dataset for rare transit events. So far we have observed over 100,000 M-dwarfs, with sensitivity to planetary transits around each one. A brief description of the project can be found in the PTF science cases paper, a recent poster from the Cool Stars conference is here, and the Cool Stars conference proceedings are here and here. A recent ApJ paper with the first results from the project is here.

Other current collaborations (and links to recent papers): the Palomar Transient Factory; the PTF Open Cluster rotation and activity survey; searching for close companions in very wide M-dwarf binaries; astrometric microlensing of local dark matter microhalos as a probe of the small-scale primordial power spectrum.

Selected recent projects

The Palomar Transient Factory (Project Scientist)

PTF is a transient search using an 8-square-degree imager on the Palomar 48-inch telescope. PTF (PI: Shri Kulkarni) is a collaboration of over 70 people in many institutions. The system completed commissioning in summer 2009; a full description of the system is published in Law et al. 2009 (PASP 121.1395L). PTF has already found over a thousand extragalactic transients and discovered a whole new class of supernova!

LAMP: LuckyCam + AO on the Palomar 200" (PI)

Using a combination of Adaptive Optics (AO) and Lucky Imaging we achieved the highest-resolution-ever images taken with visible light from the ground or space. The paper describing the results is here. The project was somehow named one of Time Magazine's best inventions of 2007.

Lucky Imaging

My PhD thesis research was on Lucky Imaging, the first system capable of reliably taking images with Hubble Space Telescope resolution from the ground using visible light and faint guide stars.

CV & Publication List

A PDF version of my CV is here.

A PDF version of my publication list is here.

Last updated Oct 2013