Imperial College Astrophysics: Consolidated Grant 2012-2014

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Physics


Imperial College Astrophysics uses data from the most sophisticated astronomical instruments in the world and in space to understand some of the most important scientific questions of the day:
- What is the universe made of and how does it evolve?
- How do galaxies, stars and planets form and evolve?

To address these questions, we must confront the data with sophisticated models for the overall structure of the Universe as well as its constituents.

On the very largest scales, we will be using the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), photons which last interacted with other matter only 400,000 years after the big bang. The CMB gives us a snapshot of the early Universe when it was hot, dense and simple. Combined with our understanding of the physical laws, our observations give us a wealth of information about the Universe on its largest scales: we can test the so-called Copernican Principle, our assumption of the isotropy of the Universe. We can also observe the effects of cosmological inflation, an early period of accelerated expansion thought to be responsible for the distribution of matter in the Universe. Similarly, data such as observations of distant supernovae will allow us to map the expansion of the Universe slightly closer to home, roughly half way to the surface probed by the CMB.

Combining these data with information from other telescopes and experiments such as the LHC at CERN, we can probe the fundamental constituents of matter, and identify the dark matter which accounts for roughly fives times more matter in the Universe than the atoms we are made of.

Armed with these models of particle physics and cosmology, we have the necessary background to understand the evolution of galaxies and the stars within them, probed using large surveys with ground and space-based telescopes. The Herschel Space Observatory is the most sensitive instrument capable of observing the roughly 50% of all photons in the Universe that are emitted by the dust that lurks between the stars of most galaxies (dust that itself is produced by earlier generations of stars in those same galaxies). By understanding the processes responsible for this radiation we can build a picture of the assembly of galaxies like our own Milky Way.

Large surveys of the sky also give us a potential window for finding extreme objects: the most distant, or most massive, or coldest objects that lurk at the outskirts of our data. However, finding them requires not only lots of data, but also robust statistical techniques to sift through them. These techniques have already found the most distant quasar and we are poised to find yet more unusual objects in new datasets.

Planned Impact

Imperial College has a very strong record in outreach and scientific communication. Members of the group have collaborated on several projects at the borders between art and science with the Architecture Association and with individual artists (including an STFC-funded small award). STFC-funded Planck and Herschel outreach has enabled further interaction with the public. This will make a strong cultural and educational impact.

Furthermore, many of the skills developed by our postdocs have proven useful in a number of non-astronomical contexts, in particular the financial sector, with several of our recent students and postdocs going to work for Winton Capital, a London-based hedge fund. (The latter firm has become sufficiently interested in our work that they have awarded one of their first research prizes to PI Andrew Jaffe.)

Members of the group are involved in a large number of science communication projects, including both personal and group blogs for both the Planck and Herschel satellites; participation in a series of public "Big Questions" debates; print, radio and television appearances. The group also runs a yearly "science for fiction" workshop which brings in well-known authors and scriptwriters to learn about current astrophysics and other cutting edge science in a workshop setting.


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Ade PA (2015) Joint analysis of BICEP2/keck array and Planck Data. in Physical review letters

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Ball W (2012) Reconstruction of total solar irradiance 1974-2009 in Astronomy & Astrophysics

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Ball W (2017) Reconciling differences in stratospheric ozone composites in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

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Clements D (2017) Cosmic sculpture: a new way to visualise the cosmic microwave background in European Journal of Physics

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Clements D (2017) An introduction to the Planck mission in Contemporary Physics

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Clements D (2018) HERUS: the far-IR/submm spectral energy distributions of local ULIRGs and photometric atlas in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Clements D (2016) H-ATLAS: a candidate high redshift cluster/protocluster of star-forming galaxies in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Delvecchio I (2015) Mapping the average AGN accretion rate in the SFR-M* plane for Herschel?-selected galaxies at 0 < z = 2.5 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Description First measurement of cmb polarisation power spectrum from lensing alone.
Exploitation Route Data analysis in cosmology and possibly other fields.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Other

Description Important astronomical/astrophysical results are always of strong cultural/societal interest. As such many of the outcomes of this research have been presented in various public and media settings.
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Planck 
Organisation European Space Agency
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are a data processing centre for the HFI Instrument on the Planck Satellite, responsible for determination of focal-plane and beam-shape parameter estimation. We also contribute heavily to various science products.
Collaborator Contribution This is a huge EU project.
Impact Lots of papers. Planck data products.
Description Big Bang Fair 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact It's an exhibition - does not match any of the types of presentation listed.

It is aimed at all school ages and adults as well, but I'm not allowed to select such a mixture.

Over 30000 attended this year
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2012,2013
Description Royal Society Summer EXHIBITION 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Audience type is *alll* of the above

Resulted in media appearances. >10000 at actual show, >100000 accessed website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2009,2012,2013