Astrophysics at the University of Birmingham: Consolidated Grant 2016-2019

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Most of our knowledge about the Universe at large has been derived from what scientists refer to as "electromagnetic radiation", ranging from radio waves through infrared radiation and light, to X-rays and gamma rays. This is about to change, since we are on the brink of the first detection of the ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves, which are predicted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. The Birmingham Astrophysics and Space Research Group is playing a key role in these developments, and is preparing to use the signals from merging black holes and neutron stars to learn more about the evolution of stars, black holes and to test our understanding of gravity itself. We are also developing the advanced technology which will be required to make future improvements in detecting gravitational waves, so that much weaker signals can be studied.

The capabilities of more conventional instruments to probe the distant Universe and cosmic structures at different scales, galaxies and galaxy clusters, continue to improve. We will use some of the most exquisite observations to advance our understanding of how galaxies and clusters form and evolve through cosmic time. A hot topic in astrophysics is the effort to understand the mysterious "dark energy" which powers the accelerating expansion of the Universe. We plan to use clusters of galaxies as probes of the structure and expansion history of the Universe on the largest scales, to advance our understanding of the nature of dark energy.

A few thousand exoplanets have been discovered in our solar neighbourhood. Understanding the properties of these systems, how the formed and how they can survive is of crucial importance to determine what kind of planets exists outside our Solar System, and, ultimately, determine where life could develop. We will use sophisticated computer simulations to explore the characteristics of different populations of these systems, and to infer the presence of (presently) unobserved companions in the data that have been gathered so far.

Within galaxies, the most massive stars have a major impact due to the very high power they radiate, and due to their powerful stellar winds. The magnetic field in these stars plays a major role, and it is surprisingly difficult to estimate how much matter is streaming away from such stars in a wind. We plan to combine computer modelling with observations at different wavelengths to improve our understanding of just how big an impact the magnetic field has on massive stars, their winds and the effects on their surroundings.

Planned Impact

In terms of academic impact, the immediate beneficiaries include the UK astronomy community, extending beyond the applicant group. In the longer term, this research will provide new insights into the formation and evolution of galaxies and clusters, lay the foundations for reliable measurements of the mysterious component of our Universe that we call "dark energy", using clusters of galaxies, provide new insights into massive stars and populations of exoplanets, and lead to the opening of a new observational window on the universe through gravitational radiation. Research on gravitational waves is expected to radically alter our understanding of the Universe, including information on the nature of neutron stars and black holes; in the long-term it will offer a new window on the very early Universe, when it is was a fraction of a second old. This will benefit the widest international astronomy/astrophysics community.

With regard to societal impact, cosmology, astrophysics and exoplanets are exciting areas and reliably excellent topics for public outreach. The direct detection of gravitational waves, which is expected towards the end of this grant period, will have a considerable impact. A flourishing of new science activities will inevitably result. An improved understanding of cosmology, clusters of galaxies, amongst the largest structures in the cosmos, planetary systems outside the solar systems, and the astrophysics of compact objects, the cosmic engines behind some of the most impressive and violent events in the universe, will surely catch the public imagination, and produce demand for creative works. Our public engagement activities have already generated new online media for education and outreach, such as interactive computer games. They have attracted considerable attention and as we are developing these games for tablets and other platforms we can expect to reach an even larger audience.

Work that we have carried out in the experimental area has already provided direct benefit to UK industry. Earlier work that we have carried out for the construction of elements of subsystems of Advanced LIGO has already benefited the UK industry with contracts for about £1M. Moreover, we have developed a simple and compact interferometer, which has produced two patents, and now a commercialised version of this device exists. Our programme on interferometry and sensors has already had applications in the development of a new gravity-gradient sensor for use in engineering, underground explorations and archeology. We will also be producing simulation software packages that have wider use in industry, for example for integrated system models of navigation systems.

Of course, the training which post-doctoral research assistants and PhD students receive within our grant-funded programme is also of much wider benefit to the academic and non-academic communities.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title GW sources 
Description data set of the detected gravitational wave sources 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact it's the first and only catalogue of astronomical objects known in gravitational waves 
URL https://losc.ligo.org/about/
 
Title lalinference 
Description data analysis technique to study the properties of gravitational-wave sources 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2010 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact it has enabled the characterisation of the physical properties of GW sources 
URL https://www.lsc-group.phys.uwm.edu/daswg/projects/lalsuite.html
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution analysis of pulsar timing data to search for gravitational waves
Collaborator Contribution provided radio data for gravitational wave searches
Impact there are papers in preparation
Start Year 2011
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation National Center for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique CNRS)
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution analysis of pulsar timing data to search for gravitational waves
Collaborator Contribution provided radio data for gravitational wave searches
Impact there are papers in preparation
Start Year 2011
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Country Italy, Italian Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution analysis of pulsar timing data to search for gravitational waves
Collaborator Contribution provided radio data for gravitational wave searches
Impact there are papers in preparation
Start Year 2011
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation University of Amsterdam
Country Netherlands, Kingdom of the 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution analysis of pulsar timing data to search for gravitational waves
Collaborator Contribution provided radio data for gravitational wave searches
Impact there are papers in preparation
Start Year 2011
 
Description EPTA 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution analysis of pulsar timing data to search for gravitational waves
Collaborator Contribution provided radio data for gravitational wave searches
Impact there are papers in preparation
Start Year 2011
 
Description GEO Collaboration 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
Country Germany, Federal Republic of 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Data analysis and instrumental development
Collaborator Contribution Data analysis and instrumental development
Impact Many papers, technology developments, and outreach events
 
Description GEO Collaboration 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Department Physics and Astronomy Department
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Data analysis and instrumental development
Collaborator Contribution Data analysis and instrumental development
Impact Many papers, technology developments, and outreach events
 
Description Local Cluster Substructure Survey (LoCuSS) 
Organisation University of Victoria
Country Australia, Commonwealth of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution proposal writing, collaboration management and leadership, observing, data analysis, interpretation, paper writing and publication
Collaborator Contribution proposal writing, observing, data analysis, interpretation, paper writing and publication
Impact outputs: 23 papers, 1156 citations since 2008;
Start Year 2007
 
Description Ultimate XMM Extragalactic Survey (XXL) 
Organisation Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA)
Department Institute of Research into the Fundamental Laws of the Universe (IRFU)
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution proposal writing, collaboration management and leadership, observing, data analysis, interpretation, paper writing and publication
Collaborator Contribution proposal writing, collaboration management and leadership, observing, data analysis, interpretation, paper writing and publication
Impact 17 articles (4 published, 13 in press)
Start Year 2012
 
Title CPNest 
Description A generic nested sampling tool for bayesian model selection and parameter estimation. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Recently released, but intend it to be useful in population modelling and signal extraction, within the gravitational wave and wider community. 
URL https://github.com/johnveitch/cpnest
 
Company Name Laser Labs Games CIC 
Description Laser Labs is a small scale developer for educational apps. Our aim is to promote science using well designed and fun apps. Our endeavour can be traced back to the Gravitational Wave Group at the University of Birmingham where we developed our first applications, from simple simulations to arcade-style games. These were soon used at science fairs by ourselves and by other scientists around the world. The apps work well for attracting an audience and for providing talking points to introduce specific research topics. Our applications became an important element in a highly ranked impact case study for the REF 2014, a regular process for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Laser Labs Games CIC, or Laser Labs for short, was founded to provide the legal structure for bringing our applications to the well known app stores. We are now recreating our applications for modern devices and technologies, and continue to work with research groups to discuss new ideas and to develop new apps to help bringing science to the masses. 
Year Established 2016 
Impact We succesfull managed to port two of our apps Pocket Black Hole and Strecth and Squash to mobile apps in time for the announcement of the first graviational wave detection. Many of the groups in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration used these apps during the public engagement activities around the event.
Website https://www.laserlabs.org/
 
Description Cutting edge science in the clas room 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact RCUK funded event centered around engaging teachers with the cutting edge science we do in our research and how they can bring this knowledge into their classrooms. We hosted a dedicated event on gravitional waves.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Annual General Meeting of Federation of Astronomical Societies, public talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited talk on graviaitonal wave astronomy at the Annual General Meeting of Federation of Astronomical Societies, by Prof. Andreas Freise.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Astronomy in the City 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Astronomy in the City is our flagship outreach event. It's hosted about 5 times a year, advertised widely by the university in the city and region. Tickets are free and must be booked. We regularly have >100 attendees per event. Each event inlcudes a number of different activities, inlcuding a visit to the University's observatory, a talk by an expert and often hands-on exhibits. We make sure that the talks are related to our own STFC funded research and over the last 12 month gravitational waves and black holes have been the key feature.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017
URL http://www.sr.bham.ac.uk/observatory/astronomyinthecity.php
 
Description Big Bang @ LGS Science Fair 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All day science fair, open to all students and the general public at Leicester Grammer School. We set up our hands-on exhibits on gravitational wave astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Cafe Scientific Pure Bar, Birmingham (thinktank science museum) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talk by Dr Christopher Berry on 'The attraction of black holes '
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/thinktank/whats-on/cafe-scientifique
 
Description Cafe Scientifique at William Brookes School 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A talk and workshop on gravitational waves searched for using ground based detectors and pulsar timing. The demonstrations included gravity / space-time, interferometers, gravitational lensing, atom trap and computer games.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Cambridge University Scientific Society, public talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Public talk On the discovery of gravitational waves: Black holes and revelations at Cambridge University Scientific Society, by Dr Christopher Berry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.facebook.com/events/1863462817208678/
 
Description Catching the Wave: Gravitational Wave Exhibition at the Thinktank Science Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have developed and installed a long term exhibit on gravitational wave science based around a Michelson interferometer and custom exhibit software. This is now located in the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum (opened summer 2016). This was supported by grants from the Royal Astronomical Society and the STFC Small Award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/07/Birmingham's-role-in-gravitational-wave-detection-ce...
 
Description Educational computer games 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Development of two completely new computer games (Black Hole Pong) and gravitational wave detection (Space Time Quest). In the first year after its release Space Time Quest achieved 10,000 downloads and Black Hole Pong close to 5000

The games have been used internationally at many science fairs and events and are always a focal point especially for younger children.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.gwoptics.org/processing/space_time_quest/
 
Description Founder and editor on chief of the LIGO Magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A new magazine was founded in 2012 to cover the activities of the 900 scientists strong LIGO Scientific Collaboration. The magazine's prime audience is the collaboration itself. However, we chose to provide a professionally produced and layouted magazine so that members of the public and policy makes can be targeted as well. So far the magazine has been downloaded more than 10000 times. The magazine was founded by Prof Andreas Freise, who has been editor in chief until 2017, Hannah Middletos is deputy editor in chief. Several individual contributions from the Birmingham group have been published in the magazine over the years.

We received several commendation from policy makes and external scientists alike on the professional image that the magazine conveys about our collaboration. However, a detailed impact analysis has not been done.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016
URL http://www.ligo.org/magazine/
 
Description Girls in STEM, University of Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Organising and hosting a 'Grabitational Waves Workshop' for the Girls in STEM day at the University of Birmingham. Classes from two local school attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Gravitational wave demonstration project with Aston University Engineering Academy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We are working with Aston University Engineering Academy, a local high school in Birmingham on a design and build project. The students are using CAD to design and build their own gravitational wave demonstration to show the merger of a binary system. This is a long term project with a group of A-level students and their physics teachers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
 
Description Gravity Fields Festival, Grantham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Workshop at the national Gravity Fields Festival in Grantham on the gravitiational wave astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.gravityfields.co.uk/index.aspx?articleid=10447
 
Description IOP Evening Lecture, University of Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public IOP Evening Lecture, University of Birmingham by Andreas Freise on "Gravitational waves, from detection to astronomy"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/physics/outreach/Secondary-Schools/IOPEveningLectures.aspx
 
Description IOP Evening Lecture, University of Nottingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact IOP Evening Lecture, University of Nottingham, public talk on Gravitationl Wave Astronomy by Prof. Andreas Freise
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description IOP Physics Big Day Out 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Contributed a talk and workshop for the IOP Physics Big Day Out - a day for school teachers to hear about science and get ideas of demonstrations possible in the classroom. We talked about gravitational waves and the first detection and demonstrated gravity, interferometers, gravitational lensing with the use of hands on demonstrations and free computer games.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Interview by Guardian 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interviewed by The Guardian newspaper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jun/15/gravitational-waves-detected-from-collision-of-secon...
 
Description Interview by Science Studio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed for Science Studio programme on KTEP radio station, Texas plus their podcast.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://ktep.org/post/science-studio-ligo
 
Description Meet the Expert at Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A "Meet the Expert" day at the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. People from the region visiting the museum can have a go at hands-on demonstrations explaining how gravitational wave detectors work, the bending of space-time in general relativity and gravitational lensing. They can also have a go at playing free apps and games developed by people in our Gravitational Wave Group (https://www.laserlabs.org/)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2016
 
Description Oxford University Student Society, public talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Oxford University Student Society, public talk by Prof Andreas Freise.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Pint of Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talk "Einstein's Last Quest" on gravitational waves as part of the Pint of Science nation-wide event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://pintofscience.co.uk/
 
Description Public lecture (National Astronomy Meeting Schools Day) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Was invited to give a talk at the National Astronomy Meeting Schools Day 2016 to around 300 school-children (ages 16+).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.nam2016.org/public-and-schools-events/schools-and-teachers
 
Description Public lecture by Professor Cole Miller from the University of Maryland, USA, on the mysteries of black holes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture by Professor Cole Miller from the University of Maryland, USA, on the mysteries of black holes
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-mysteries-of-black-holes-tickets-28772220486
 
Description Raddical Sabbatical, Sarah Farmer 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A new collaboration with an artist in residence, Sarah Farmer, at the University of Birmingham. The aim of the collaboration is to explore artistic explression related to the research effort around gravtiational wave astronomy. This activity has just started.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Radio Interview, Burn FM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Interview with regional radion Burn FM on the discovery of gravitational waves with Prof. Andreas Freise.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://howesthat.org.uk/radio-show/2016/11/6/show-4-space-week
 
Description Redditch Astro Society, public talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talk by Dr Will Farr on Gravitional Wave Astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description School visit (Queensbridge) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I was invited to talk to around 50 secondary students (ages 14-16) about my research, the discovery of gravitational waves, choosing a career in science and studying at university. Feedback from teachers suggests it was very well received by students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Skeptics in the Pub, The Victoria, Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Skeptics in the Pub, The Victoria, Birmingham, informal talk and question and answer session on Graviaitonal Wave Astronomy with Dr Christopher Berry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://birmingham.skepticsinthepub.org/Event.aspx/9128/Gravitational-Waves
 
Description Stratford-upon-Avon Astronomical Society, public talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talk ' Einstein's gravity & the hunt for gravitational waves' by Dr Christopher Berry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.astro.org.uk/news/oct16/
 
Description TEDXWarwick 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact One of the TEDX talks @ Warwick under the theme breaking boundaries. The talk sparkled many discussions and interactions with the public and other speakers about taking new and different approaches to problems in order to make progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.tedxwarwick.com
 
Description TedX Event in Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We hosted an exhibition and gave a talk on the first detection of graviational waves at the locally organised TedX event in Birmingham. The local audience is 800. Following the philisophy of TED talks, the main aim was to produce a 12 minutes long video which spreads the topic way beyond the local audience. Our two messages were: you don't need to be Einstein to do interesting and impotant work, and sometimes it takes collaboration and dedication to discover new facts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Wolverhampton Astronomical Society, public lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Wolverhampton Astronomical Society, public lecture by Prof Ilya Mandel on 'How do you look for black holes (and find them)?'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Wordls Collide, collaboration with Leaon Trimble 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact New collaboration wth audio-visual artist Leon Trimble. The aim of the collaboration is to explore artistic explression related to the research effort around gravtiational wave astronomy, in particular the visualisation and sonification of simulated and real gravitational wave detector activity and performance with cello, modular synthesiser and 360deg projection. This project has just started.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017