Astronomy & Astrophysics at Nottingham

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Physics & Astronomy

Abstract

The primary focus of our research in Nottingham is to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies. Galaxies form the building blocks of the observable Universe, and typical galaxies, like the Milky Way, may contain over 100 billion stars. A major challenge in astrophysics is to understand how and when galaxies were formed, and how they evolved from the earliest systems to produce the variety of phenomena we see today.

We tackle these important problems in a number of ways. One approach is to study local galaxies, which we can study in exquisite, beautiful detail. Another technique is to study more distant galaxies in a wide variety of environments, including very dense regions of the Universe known as galaxy clusters. A key aim in this second approach is to understand the relative roles of 'nature' versus 'nurture' in influencing galaxy evolution. Yet another approach is to obtain very long exposures on large telescopes to study the most distant galaxies of all, to observe them in the act of formation. When we observe distant galaxies we are also looking back in time, and remarkably we can now observe galaxies as they were up to 13 billion years ago.

Complementing our various observational strategies, we also use theoretical models and computer simulations. With the latest supercomputers we can model the formation and growth of structure from the Big Bang to the present day, and by comparing our models and simulations with the real Universe we can determine if our theories accurately reflect reality, or if we are missing some key physical processes.

Finally we are developing a new interdisciplinary project with colleagues on the Nottingham Granular Dynamics group. The aim is to understand the properties of dust and rubble in the solar system, applying the unusual physics of granular systems that we have studied in the laboratory to astrophysical environments.

In summary, we are tackling a wide variety of problems in astronomy and astrophysics. The overall motivation is to understand the Universe we live in, and to understand our own origins on the grandest possible scales.

Planned Impact

We are committed to delivering the impact of our research to all potential beneficiaries, which include both a broad societal audience through our outreach activities, and more commercially-oriented recipients through knowledge exchange. There is also a significant cross-over between these audiences, since our success in establishing innovative outreach activity has led us to develop the commercialization of these programmes as well. We seek to integrate these activities in the daily running of the group, to emphasize their importance and to get students and staff at all levels actively involved.

In outreach, as well as the traditional routes such as public lectures and talks to clubs and societies, we have sought to develop new channels to reach a wider audience. These initiatives include "The Inflativerse," a programme led entirely by our PDRAs and PhD students, that won funding from the University to purchase an inflatable planetarium and develop shows for it. Working with the University's widening participation unit, we target schools that serve underprivileged neighbourhoods, seeking to raise interest and aspirations of the children at these schools. We are currently reaching more than 2000 children per year with this initiative.

With Bamford serving as science director for the Citizen Science Alliance, we are also strongly involved in this movement, particularly the Galaxy Zoo projects to classify galaxies. These projects have engaged more than a million members of the public world-wide, getting them actively interested in science and developing their understanding of the scientific method. Bamford's responsibility for the oversight of scientific impact means that he also plays a key role in closing the loop by turning this outreach activity back into cutting-edge published scientific results.

In collaboration with video journalist Brady Haran, we have established a very strong presence on YouTube, describing the science that we undertake, as well as broader topics in physics and astronomy, through the "Sixty Symbols" video channel. These videos are intended to interest the public in science, and feedback through the associated comments forum indicates that they have a strong impact, even to the extent of changing people's educational and career aspirations. This channel currently has more than 180,000 subscribers, and the videos have been watched more than 16 million times.

The success of this programme has led to commercial knowledge exchange, as Google directly solicited new material for YouTube from Haran, and we developed the "Deep Sky Videos" channel to present videos with just an astronomical theme. The European Southern Observatory have subsequently brought in our experience, and academic staff together with Haran will be filming footage for them in Chile later this year. We also competed successfully for funding from STFC to spin this approach out to describing their facilities, through the "Backstage Science" video programme we developed.

In addition, we are involved in more conventional knowledge exchange, mainly relating to Pearce's expertise in modelling cosmological fluid dynamics. We have developed collaborations with engineers at the University that reach out to commercial partners including Rolls Royce to model the lubrication of engines, and Ambiental to study three-dimensional flood models.

These programmes are at varying degrees of maturity, and our plan for the coming few years is to realize the investment that we have made in developing these activities by making full use of them to present our work to the widest possible audience, while looking for opportunities to develop new complementary initiatives. In doing so, we will seek to maintain the basic ethos of embedding these activities in the core work of the group, and of involving students and staff at all levels in delivering the impact of our research.

Publications

10 25 50
publication icon
Abbott T. M. C. (2018) The Dark Energy Survey: Data Release 1 in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series

publication icon
Agius N (2015) H-ATLAS/GAMA and HeViCS - dusty early-type galaxies in different environments in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

publication icon
Almaini O (2017) Massive post-starburst galaxies at z > 1 are compact proto-spheroids in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

 
Description The Astronomy Group at the University of Nottingham specializes in studying the distant Universe. We use a combination of observational and theoretical techniques to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies.
Exploitation Route Our research is published in peer-reviewed journals.
Sectors Education

 
Description The primary benefit of our work is to further basic human knowledge, to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies, and thereby shed light on our own origins. Over 300 research papers have emerged from the work funded in this grant, which are having a major impact on astronomical research worldwide. Our research work also helps in the training and education of highly-qualified postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, many of whom have moved into industry to work in a variety of technical fields. Our work also plays a vital role in helping to inspire the next generation of scientists, and members of our group are involved in a wide range of outreach activities. In addition to giving public talks on our work, and visiting local schools, we are also engaged in a highly popular series of online videos. The SIxty Symbols project in particular (http://youtube.com/sixtysymbols) has now gained more than 600,000 subscribers, and our vidoes have been viewed by over 70 million times. Our related Deep Sky Videos series (http://youtube.com/deepskyvideos) has gained over 9 million views.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Creative Economy,Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Astronomy & Astrophysics at Nottingham 2016-2020
Amount £1,242,543 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/P000614/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2020
 
Description Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham 2020-2023
Amount £1,476,194 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/T000171/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 03/2023
 
Title Sherwood 
Description Sherwood Simulation Suite 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The situations provide state-of-the art hydrodynamical models of the Lyman-alpha forest in the distant Universe. 
URL https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/astronomy/sherwood/index.php
 
Title UDS 
Description UKIDSS Ultra-Deep Survey 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Over 100 publications have emerged from this survey. 
URL https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/astronomy/UDS/
 
Title UHS 
Description UKIRT Hemisphere Survey 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The UHS, like its optical equivalent, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, will provide a large legacy database for years to come for galactic and extra-galactic astronomers alike. 
URL http://wsa.roe.ac.uk/uhsDR1.html
 
Description CANDELS Survey 
Organisation University of California, Santa Cruz
Department Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific papers
Start Year 2012
 
Description Comograil 
Organisation Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)
Country Switzerland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Scientific research collaboration and expertise
Collaborator Contribution Scientific research collaboration and expertise
Impact Scientific papers
Start Year 2007
 
Description DES - Dark Energy Survey 
Organisation Dark Energy Survey (DES)
Country Global 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration Financial Contribution
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Publications PhD Student Training
Start Year 2011
 
Description EDisCS - ESO Distant Cluster Survey 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Papers
 
Description EUCLID 
Organisation European Space Agency
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Scientific exploitation of data Computational support
Collaborator Contribution Scientific exploitation of data
Impact Scientific publications Space science
Start Year 2012
 
Description Euclid consortium 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department University of Nottingham Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We lead the legacy (non cosmological) sciences with this grant in the UK. It provides essential funding to carry out our work.
Collaborator Contribution We are carrying out analyses to determine how to measure galaxy evolution and gravitational lensing.
Impact publicans listed elsewhere
Start Year 2012
 
Description Euclid survey 
Organisation European Space Agency
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I co-led the legacy science, and lead an analysis of how galaxy morphologies can be measured in the survey
Collaborator Contribution I co-led the legacy science, writing papers, carrying out research
Impact Paper on joint analysis with LSST science - Scientific Synergy between LSST and Euclid
Start Year 2011
 
Description GAMA - Galaxy and Mass Assembly 
Organisation University of St Andrews
Department School of Physics and Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Papers
Start Year 2011
 
Description Galaxy Zoo 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Astrophysics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Papers Citizens Science
Start Year 2011
 
Description HerMES - Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey 
Organisation University of Sussex
Department School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Sussex
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Papers
Start Year 2011
 
Description Herschel ATLAS - Cardiff 
Organisation University of Canterbury
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Research Collaboration
Start Year 2011
 
Description LOFAR - Low-Frequency Array 
Organisation ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration Financial Contribution
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Publications
Start Year 2011
 
Description Planetary Nebula Spectrograph 
Organisation European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Country Germany 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration, financial contribution
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific papers
Start Year 2011
 
Description SDSS Manga Survey 
Organisation University of Chicago
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution x
Collaborator Contribution x
Impact x
Start Year 2013
 
Description The Sherwood simulation project 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department MRC Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Project led by Bolton in Nottingham.
Collaborator Contribution Project led by Bolton in Nottingham.
Impact Outputs lsited elswhere.
Start Year 2016
 
Description UKIRT Hemisphere Survey 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific collaboration and expertise
Collaborator Contribution Scientific collaboration and expertise
Impact Scientific papers
Start Year 2012
 
Description VANDELS 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Department School of Physics and Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Almaini is an active member of this consortium.
Collaborator Contribution Ongoing science collaboration.
Impact Outputs listed elsewhere.
Start Year 2014
 
Description VANDELS 
Organisation University of St Andrews
Department School of Physics and Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Almaini is an active member of this consortium.
Collaborator Contribution Ongoing science collaboration.
Impact Outputs listed elsewhere.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Virgo Consortium 
Organisation Durham University
Department Institute for Computational Cosmology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scietific Research Collaboration
Collaborator Contribution Scietific Research Collaboration
Impact Scientific Papers
Start Year 2011
 
Description WFIRST - Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope 
Organisation National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Department Goddard Space Flight Center
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Science definition
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Research Collaboration
Impact Space Science
Start Year 2012
 
Description Citizen Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact see http://www.zooniverse.org

Active engagement of the public in scientific activities via the Internet, Reaching hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.zooniverse.org
 
Description Talks to schools, the general public, and astronomial societies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Members of our group have given numerous talks and presentations to local schools, astronomical societies, and to members of the public through lecture series.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/physics/outreach/outreach.aspx
 
Description The Inflativerse 
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 Initiative proposed and run by PhD students and PDRAs to bring an Inflatable Planetarium to schools and public events, and to invite schools to the University of Nottingham and other public venues,

Funding: GBP 20000 from the University of Nottingham.



Public Engagement.

It reaches more than 2000 disadvantaged children per year (focus on Widening Participation schools) and many members of the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/astronomy/planetarium/The_Inflativerse/Home.html
 
Description YouTube Engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In collaboration with video journalist Brady Haran, we have developed several extremely successful series of YouTube videos, which present both broader discussion of interesting topics in astronomy but also specific explanations of our research as it is published. The approach adopted is to engage the viewer with both the science being presented and the daily life of the researchers undertaking it, so that a long-term relationship is established with the audience. The first channel that we played a major role in creating is called Sixty Symbols (http://youtube.com/sixtysymbols), which presented physics and astronomy themed around a particular symbol (such as OP for a discussion of Merrifield's work on measuring pattern speeds in galaxies). This channel currently has more than 180,000 subscribers and the 200 videos have been viewed more than 16 million times. Following from the phenomenal success of this channel, Brady was approached by Google (who own YouTube) to develop new ideas, and we collaborated with him to create Deep Sky Videos (http://youtube.com/deepskyvideos) that looks at astronomical objects, concentrating initially on the Messier Catalogue, and again drawing on our research activities on these objects. This channel has also been a success, with more than 70,000 subscribers and more than two million views of the 79 videos produced to-date. We commissioned an independent study to look at the demographics of the audience for these channels, and found that they span a very wide range of ages and backgrounds. Feedback through the channels' comment sections and email also indicates the profound effect that these videos have had on some viewers' interest and even career aspirations.

We have reached very large audiences worldwide. A large number of undergraduate physics applicants report that our YouTube videos inspired them to study physics at Nottingham or elsewhere.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.sixtysymbols.com