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Remembering Hugh Thompson

TMT is deeply saddened by the passing of TMT Systems Engineer Hugh Thompson on May 7, 2021. Hugh was a colleague, good friend and inspiration to many of us who were fortunate to interact with him over his career.


Hugh began working at TMT in the summer of 2008. Prior to that, he worked as a systems engineer on the Radarsat program for MacDonald Dettwiler in Vancouver. He joined TMT because he wanted to work on a major astronomy project, which had been a passion of his since high school. His enthusiasm for astronomy and telescopes shone through, and he was dedicated to making TMT a success. This passion was one of the hallmarks of his work, and was evidenced in the way that he constantly looked for ways to maximize the scientific potential of the observatory.

One of the necessary attributes of a systems engineer is to have a broad knowledge of diverse engineering disciplines. Hugh’s experience in areas such as optics, dynamics and thermodynamics allowed him to make important contributions to the designs of the telescope structure and enclosure, the instrument and telescope thermal management systems, and the summit facilities. Many of his ideas and contributions to solving engineering challenges were incorporated as the design of these major systems has progressed. Hugh maintained critical oversight during their development, always ensuring that the design would be capable of performing to the required level of performance, but also spotting the often overlooked small details, where a seemingly minor change would improve the capabilities of the telescope.

Hugh also had a natural inquisitiveness about engineering and science that led him to research problems to understand the underlying issues and develop answers or solutions from basic principles. His work on solving vibration issues is one such example, where he developed a novel approach to manage the way that sources of vibration affect the telescope image quality. This approach has been adopted by other observatories across the world and will be of great benefit to the images delivered by TMT.

In addition to his technical skills, Hugh was an engaging, thoughtful and kind person. He had a remarkable ability to connect with people, whether within the TMT project team, or with our partners across the globe. Hugh previously lived in several different countries including China, South Korea, Germany and the UK, as well as his home country of Canada, and his knowledge and understanding of diverse cultures helped him build relationships across the TMT partnership and beyond.


More than this, though, was Hugh’s genuine interest in other people, their careers, families, backgrounds and interests. He was able to create good friendships with people through these connections, and this, along with his attitude, sense of humor, and energy enlivened many of the meetings and events in which he was involved. He also used this ability to engage with the general public, either at formal outreach events or through informal conversations with people he met. There are countless people who learned of TMT and astronomy through their conversations with Hugh.

Hugh leaves behind a strong legacy at TMT and he will be greatly missed by all his colleagues and friends. His countless contributions to TMT will continue on. We wish to assure his wife Paige, and his sons Avery and Kaito, that the memory of his kindness and dedication will never be forgotten.

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