UCL Astrophysics Consolidated Grant 2012-2015

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


In the last twenty-five years, the world of astronomy has been turned upside down. We now know that not only is our universe expanding, but that it is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. Fuelled by a mysterious driver called Dark Energy - galaxies, such as our Milky Way, are rushing away from each other at such enormous acceleration that not even the powerful force of gravity can hold the universe together.

The researchers of UCL's Astrophysics Group are putting to the test these discoveries with their ambitious programme of research for the coming years. A map of 300 million galaxies that astronomers will put together using the Dark Energy Survey over the next decade will be combined with a new chart of the Cosmic Microwave Background from the Planck satellite to understand the conditions in the early universe, to detect the tiny mass of the Neutrino particle and to test Einstein's theory of general Relativity on the largest scales.

At the other end of the astronomical scale, 25 years ago we knew only of the planets in our own Solar System - eight by today's count, with minor planets like Pluto, Charon and Ceres, along with asteroids and comets. Today the score is over 2000 and counting, thanks to the discovery of extra-solar planets, i.e. planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun. So are these "exo-planets" like the ones we already know? Are these exoplanet systems like our planetary system? So far, the answer is "no", and UCL's programme also contains projects to find out just what exo-planets are like, what their atmospheres are made of, and how they behave in conditions very different from those affecting our Earth and its nearest neighbours.

And in between these two extremes, our projects will probe the giant magnetic fields that surround planets like Jupiter and Saturn, and how these interact with the planet's atmosphere. Exo-planets may also have such magnetic fields; knowing how they work in our Solar System will help us understand and even detect exo-planetary systems.

We will probe just how stars and the planets around them form from vast gas and dust clouds, and how the chemistry that goes on between the stars affects and controls those crucial processes. UCL's astrophysics team will also look at the death of stars in giant explosions called supernovas and how, in dying, huge stars pour their hearts back out into the galaxy, enriching them with the gas, dust and chemical soups required to make new stars, new planets and even new life.

None of this can be done unless astronomers continually improve the equipment - the telescopes and their detectors - with which they carry out their studies of the heavens. So UCL's instrument makers will create ever-more sensitive detectors and spectrometers, with better and better optical surfaces, with which to equip the next generation of telescopes and space missions. And astronomers need to model the universe they study with ever more complex mathematical techniques. So UCL's computer experts will generate the sophisticated models, running on the university's supercomputers, to generate the basic molecular data needed, and simulate the conditions in the early universe, the evolving galaxies and the stars and planetary systems that inhabit them.

But all of this will be wasted unless our fellow citizens get to share in the wonder and excitement of our group's work. So Astrophysics@UCL will ensure that its members continue to explain their work through talks and lectures, through public events, and through the media, inspiring the next generation of scientists, helping and challenging industry to develop new technologies, and ensuring that our understanding of the universe becomes ever deeper and wider.

Planned Impact

The Group will continue and broaden its current Knowledge Exchange and
Outreach programmes. Knowledge Exchange and transfer of the results of our
innovation will be achieved as follows:
(i) Working through its 3 main spin-out (technology transfer) firms,
Zeeko, OPTICS Glyndyr and Quantemol, through which research level optical
design and manufacturing processes and molecular quantum calculations are
transferred to Industry. Zeeko and OPTICS Glyndyr work closely with
Industry to establishing the link between detailed surface topography and
functional performance to improve performance or reduce cost, or both.
Examples include the semiconductor sector for the polishing of large-area
display components and the possible future transition to photolithography
in the EUV. Quantemol specialises in the area of electron-molecule
collisions and plasma modelling, particularly the etching of semiconductor
materials, which utilises molecules that do not react with silicon
surfaces unless they are subjected to electronic collisions;

(ii) Providing accurate and complete molecular data to Industry and
climate research programmes - this has proved particularly successful with
our water linelists which are used by industry - there is much outside
interest in our ongoing calculations for methane;

(iii) Working with commerce, research design labs and other academic areas
to produce new detector technology and IT (hardware and software)
solutions, which will produce new research results but will be
transferrable to Industry and academic areas such as BioMedicine;

(iv) work with leading IT vendors to test and design new hardware and
software solutions which will eventually end up in the marketplace.

The Group's Outreach programme will build on its current programme: (i)
writing and appearing in documentary series that are aired on national
television, writing popular astronomy text books aimed at particular key
stages of the national curriculum and organising and contributing to
regular astronomy festivals (Your Universe and Stars R Us); (ii) speaking
at schools, local and national Astronomy associations and local and
national media, such as local radio and BBC news - in particular we will
build on our excellent talks on Spectroscopy, using the topic of
Exoplanets, which is successfully imparting challenging concepts in
quantum mechanics to our young people; (iii) offering work experience
places to 16-18 year olds from inner London Boroughs to encourage them to
think seriously about careers in STEM subjects; (iv) providing online
content and on-line modelling applications to the media and public in the
area of Exoplanets via the EuroPlanet Project to foster increased public
interest in Astronomy; (v) providing hands-on activities and tours for the
public using the UCL Mill Hill Observatory; (vi) speaking regularly to
opinion formers in the RAS, IOP, Parliament, the European Parliament, the
Civil Service and in Industry and Commerce about both the value of
academic research and possible spin outs into other sectors of the
knowledge economy; (vii) communicating and interacting regularly with
academic colleagues from computer science and BioMedicine, with whom we
share many technical interests, particularly in the area of the processing
and analysis of large wide-field images.

A Consolidated Grant will allow us to monitor and manage these impact
activities more effectively and improve our already active internal and
external collaborative culture by reducing barriers such as
compartmentalisation between research areas and improving communication
between applied researchers and theoretical researchers.


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A E Lynas-Gray (2018) Current State of Astrophysical Opacities: A White Paper in Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series

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Abbott T. (2012) First SN Discoveries from the Dark Energy Survey in The Astronomer's Telegram

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Abdalla F. B. (2015) Cosmology from HI galaxy surveys with the SKA in Advancing Astrophysics with the Square Kilometre Array (AASKA14)

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Achilleos N (2014) A combined model of pressure variations in Titan's plasma environment in Geophysical Research Letters

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Achilleos N. (2012) Modelling the Forces in Saturn's Warped Magnetodisc in EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts

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Achilleos N. A. (2012) Modelling Planetary Magnetodiscs in AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts

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Achilleos N. A. (2013) Modeling Plasma Conditions Upstream of Titan in AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts

Title Hosting artists in residence 
Description We have hosted artists in residence who were inspired by Dark Energy studies 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact - Artist Katie Paterson (on Leverhulme grant; PI: Lahav) presented her work in museums around the world - Artist Marie Kaus produced art work on dark energy, on display at UCL Observatory at Mill Hill 
Description This is a consolidated grant covering a wide range of research within the UCL Astrophysics group, including:
- Cosmology from Surveys: The Dark Energy Survey has already completed (as of early 2017) 4 out of the 5 observing seasons. Over 90 research papers have appeared,
several of them led by the UCL team. Other studies are well underway, both for characterising Dark Energy and for other non-cosmological studies.
- Results from the CMB Planck space mission have been published
- Herschel Studies of SNe and evolved stars: Among many papers based on the Herschel space telescope results, noble gas molecules have been detected in space for the first time in the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant (paper led by Co-I Barlow)

The CG resulted in over 400 papers (since 2012).
Exploitation Route Published in ArXiv (Green open access) and refereed journals

The CG (2012-2015) was followed by the CG (2015-2019).
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

URL http://www.ucl.ac.uk/star
Description - Used to influence the future research carried out by ourselves and other astrophysicists. - The Group also conducts activities intending to reach out to the public, private and third sectors and we have collaborations that are leading to technological, scientific or commercial developments, e.g. 1. Tennyson's Exomol programme has established links with Technical University of Denmark and Servomex plc, who use linelist data to model spectra of gas emissions at the top of smokestacks for environmental monitoring. Exomol data also contributes to atmospheric and climate models; Viti has a collaboration with academic chemists to produce experimental and theoretical surface chemistry reaction rates; DES, Planck and Euclid projects are linked to multiple industrial contracts, some of which have UK industrial firms developing processes to meet instrument specifications; Yates consolidated High Performance Computing activities within the PPAN remit to create one of the largest HPC Facilities in Europe. - Inspiring art through science and vice versa, via Artist in Residence schemes (e.g. Lahav working with artists Katie Paterson and Marie Kaus). Paterson's work has been exhibited all over the world (Selfridges, London; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney) and viewed by over one million people. - Various high-profile press releases by Group members (e.g. Barlow's Dec 2013 Science paper in NY Times, Independent, Wired etc; Peiris' work with Planck on BBC Online, NY Times, FT, Guardian, Economist, TEDxCERN)
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Cultural

Description Advance ERC grant
Amount € 2,400,000 (EUR)
Funding ID FP7/291329 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 04/2012 
End 04/2018
Title Optics and statistical methods 
Description - designing optical corrector for wide field multi object spectroscopy - developing statistics of cross correlations of imaging and spectroscopic surveys (Kirk et al.) - developing methods for selecting candidates of emission lines galaxies from imaging surveys 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact See above 
Title Databases of molecular line lists 
Description Our molecular line lists have been collected as data. These are distributed directly from our own website and via other data centres (Strasbourg, BADC) and via other databases: HITRAN, GEISA, KIDA, BASECOL, HITEMP etc 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact HITRAN has 200,000 users. Our data is now central to this. Other data is having an important influence in other key areas eg Exoplanet research. 
Title TROVE 
Description A new version of the code TROVE was developed which explicitly included the symmetry of methane. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The production of linelists for methane and silane 
URL https://github.com/Trovemaster/TROVE
Company Name Blue Skies Space Ltd 
Description At Blue Skies Space Ltd, we aim to break the current bespoke, publicly-funded model for astronomy and astrophysics missions and employ a commercial approach to create new opportunities for cutting-edge science. Our vision is to enable cost-effective, quickly-delivered scientific instruments for users worldwide through a service-based model. 
Year Established 2014 
Impact Our first project, the Twinkle Space Mission, will carry unique instrumentation designed to analyse the atmospheres of exoplanets and give radical insights into worlds orbiting distant stars. The Twinkle satellite will be based on a tried-and-tested structure, built by the world-leading space company, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
Website http://www.blueskiesspace.co.uk/
Description press release and interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact a press release on DESI (which succeeded DESpec)
Interviewed in at article on DESI in Physics Today (Oct 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014