Cosmology and Astrophysics at Portsmouth

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation

Abstract

This consolidated grant is to support cosmologists and astrophysicists in the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) at the University of Portsmouth. The ICG was formed in 2002 through a strategic investment from the university, and now hosts 50 researchers making it one of the largest extragalactic astronomy groups in the UK e.g. ranked 8th in research outputs in the recent REF2014.

Cosmology and astrophysics are experiencing a golden age of discovery driven by new experiments and theoretical advances. However, we still face three fundamental challenges before a more complete model of the Universe can be achieved: i) What are the properties of the "dark matter" and "dark energy" that make up 96% of the Universe? ii) How do galaxies form and evolve? iii) What is the origin, and statistical nature, of structures in the Universe? This grant will address these fundamental problems through pioneering theoretical work and the use of new surveys of the sky to map billions of distant galaxies. Galaxies are the "building blocks" of the Universe and as well as studying how they form, we will use the galaxies to improve our understanding of cosmology (the properties of the Universe as a whole). We will exploit current and forthcoming galaxy surveys including the Dark Energy Survey, SDSS-IV, SERVS and Euclid to measure numerous probes of cosmology such as the clustering of galaxies, supernovae and weak gravitational lensing (distortions of the galaxies' shape due to gravity). Precise cosmological models will be constructed and analysed, and simulated with Portsmouth's SCIAMA supercomputer. These models will be compared to data to reveal the cosmological properties of the Universe. The surveys will be used to study how galaxies form, by measuring their colours and taking detailed spectra of the galaxies. We will also study the evolution of galaxies by comparing the galaxies in the nearby Universe, showing their present state, with those of the distant Universe, which gives us a window into the past.

Bringing together all our work, we will model and measure the evolution of the Universe throughout its entire history. We will study how quantum fluctuations in the very early universe may be stretched by inflation in the very early universe to astronomical scales, leaving their imprint in the distribution of light and matter in the universe today. We will also explore the characteristic imprint of Einstein's general relativity and the role of dark energy in shaping the evolution of structure in our Universe. Additionally, our analyses will shed light on the properties of dark matter, which we can "see" via gravity but which does not interact like normal matter. We will also obtain a fuller understanding of the characteristics of galaxies throughout cosmic time. This will tell us whether the usual assumptions about dark matter provide an adequate description of the formation and evolution of galaxies.

ICG staff are committed to public outreach and have been engaged in a number of high-profile activities in the media and local community. For example, our staff have visited many local schools to discuss their careers, their research, and share their enthusiasm for astrophysics and cosmology, e.g. BBC Stargazing Live for the last few years with thousands of participants

Planned Impact

Schools: ICG is a member of the South East Physics Network (SEPNet; www.sepnet.ac.uk) which coordinates a regional outreach programme led by a central outreach director to support the development and dissemination of good practice and the assessment of impact. Since 2011, SEPnet outreach has delivered activities to over 100k people. Since 2012, the ICG has employed a SEPnet / Ogden Outreach Officer (Jennifer Gupta) who has developed our own professionally-run schools programme. This includes our popular "A Visit from Space" (engaging 609 KS2 children since Oct 2013), our own Astrodome facility (targeted at secondary schools), and our "Cosmology Masterclass", which supports A-level Physics (e.g. 107 students attended in 2013-14, 60% commenting that the event changed their view on studying STEM at university). On top of this, ICG members engaged with 2729 school pupils in 2013-14 through individual talks, workshops and other events and hosted several work experience students. With all these activities, we are committed to encouraging wider participation in science and higher education. We work with our University Education, Liaison and Outreach Team to ensure our activities are advertised to target widening participation schools, of which there are many in the Portsmouth area.

Public Engagement: All ICG members are encouraged to communicate the results of their science to help inspire the public. Our main engagement is through talks and presentations e.g. in 2014, ICG members delivered 37 public activities (e.g. Bestival, Winchester Science Festival). We also host annual public lectures by prominent external cosmologists (Bernard Shutz in 2014) which always sell out to capacity. ICG staff and students help deliver major annual "BBC Stargazing Live" local events with thousands of ticketed visitors. In June 2014, ICG hosted NAM and ran an unprecedented array of public engagement events, from art exhibits to a sold-out "Science Comedy Night" hosted by Helen Arney. Finally, we engage with the public through traditional and online media. In the last year, staff have featured in a variety of print articles (Economist, Nature, Astronomy), appeared on the BBC Horizon (March 2015) and "Sky at Night" (June 2014), and worked to obtain excellent exposure in the local media (print, radio and TV). Our PhD student LeCras won the IoP's "Young Communicator Award" in 2014, and Masters, was one of the BBC's "100 Women" for 2014, as well as winning the "Women of the Future 2014" Science category.

Citizen Science: ICG members are involved in the Galaxy Zoo (GZ) project, an online galaxy classification tool which inspired the Zooniverse citizen science platform (www.zooniverse.org) with over 1.2 million registered users. Masters and Nichol collaborate with educational specialists and social scientists on work to quantify the impact of GZ on the knowledge and perceptions of its users. These works are among the first objective studies of the impact of citizen science on participants.

Knowledge Exchange: From March 2015, the ICG will host a STFC IPS Fellowship focused on enhancing the innovation potential from our research. The fellow will develop collaborative project activity with industrial partners across ICG & SEPNet, with a view to increasing the volume, depth and value of commercialisation of research. Recent examples of innovation includes Masters working on an Innovate:UK funded project with a local satellite imaging company (www.rsacl.co.uk) to explore the use of crowdsourcing techniques (like Galaxy Zoo) to measure land use change. Masters is also a Co-I on an EPSRC funded collaboration studying the economics of volunteering online (with the Portsmouth Business School).

Developing Countries: ICG has strong ties to several developing countries, but especially South Africa and China (via joint appointments of Maartens and Zhao respectively).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description CommonSensing 
Organisation University of Manchester
Department School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working with the School of Earth Environmental Studies (SEES) on UNITAR funded project, through the UK Space Agency's International Partnership Programme using remote sensing to detect, map and model impacts of natural hazards associated with climate change in small island states (SIDS) in the Pacific. We provide data expertise especially in making maps based on our DES experience.
Collaborator Contribution Access to data
Impact Still ongoing
Start Year 2018
 
Description DES 
Organisation Dark Energy Survey (DES)
Country Global 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Scientific leadership and guidance, preparation of scientific simulations and preparations, organisation of meetings and events
Collaborator Contribution Access to proprietary data and scientific collaboration
Impact Scientific publications (see publication list)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Euclid Consortium 
Organisation UK Space Agency
Department Euclid Consortium
Country France 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Scientific and collaboration leadership. Help with design of weak lensing science requirements, scientific coordination of the mission and design of the Euclid deep field
Collaborator Contribution Involvement in the design and possible construction of the Euclid satellite mission which is one of three concepts being studied by ESA and the UK space agency.
Impact Involvement in many aspects of the Euclid design and management. Involvement in the drafting of the Euclid "Yellow Book". Some funding from the UK Space Agency.
Start Year 2008
 
Description Kings College Hospital Trust 
Organisation King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (NCH)
Department Cardiology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise and skills in data science based on astronomical data analysis techniques
Collaborator Contribution Access to unique cardiology data including clinical expertise in interpreting any data analysis results
Impact results still being analysed but looking profitable to find better treatments especially for emergency medicine
Start Year 2018
 
Description LSST 
Organisation Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Corporation
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are institutional members of the LSST
Collaborator Contribution Access to unique astronomical data
Impact Access to unique collaboration and data
Start Year 2018
 
Description SDSS 
Organisation Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III)
Department Astrophysical Research Council
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have collaborated on research including catalogue preparation, database hosting, documentation and SDSS outreach & public understanding
Collaborator Contribution Access to unique proprietary data
Impact Many peer-reviewed academic publications (see list of publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Astronomy on Tap 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Informal talks in a pub about ICG research, aimed at attracting an audience of people who might not attend formal public lectures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Continuation of Astronomy on Tap 
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 continue our "Astronomy on Tap" series into the third year. Multiple people are involved giving talks at the Kings Pub, Portsmouth. Each event addresses a different theme; Galaxies, the History of the Universe, and Supernovae. During the course of the evenings attendees heard from 2 ICG staff members who spoke about their research, had the opportunity to ask their burning questions to them, and took part in a quiz with space-themed prizes!
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2017,2018,2019
URL http://www.icg.port.ac.uk/astronomy-on-tap/
 
Description Dancing the Universe 
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 'Dancing the Universe' is a workshop developed by former ICG member Dr Violeta Gonzalez-Perez to bring a creative and expressive element to the research of the ICG. During a short introduction from Dr Gonzalez-Perez the dancers learnt about gravity, galaxies, and the expansion of the universe. The students were able to create and modify their own dance interpretations of the research, (with the help and choreographic expertise of Grace Hall from the Neptune Girls) which was recorded and shown at a short event later in the year.
Funding for the event was provided by the University of Portsmouth and the Royal Astronomical Society
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Eclipse in Guildhall Square 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 1000 members of the public attended an event in Portsmouth Guildhall Square organised by the ICG in collaboration with Portsmouth City Council for the March 2015 partial solar eclipse. Despite total cloud cover, many of the attendees chatted to ICG members about their research and watched live feeds of the eclipse on the Big Screen. The event was covered by several local media outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Girls into Physics 
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 Bridget Falck co-organised an event for female A-level students, their parents and teachers, to encourage the girls to consider continuing studying physics to a higher level. The attendees really engaged with the event, and the majority of the girls reported that the event had made them more confident in their ability to study physics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Inaugural Lecture - Daniel Thomas 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Professor Thomas' inaugural lecture, attended by VIPs, members of the ICG and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Physics Taster Day 
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 In 2015/16 the University of Portsmouth began to offer Physics Taster Days for A-level students, combining the ICG's Cosmology Masterclass with other physics activities. These events have been attended by over 100 A-level students from colleges across the region, who attend talks and activities with several of the co-Is. The events spark lots of questions and discussion about physics, cosmology and attending university.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
 
Description Principia Schools Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation organised and hosted the Portsmouth Tim Peake Principia Schools Conference in collaboration with the UK Space Agency. Events were held on two days and attended by over 500 school children from across the country. Several co-Is attended the conference and engaged with school pupils to talk about cosmology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Public Talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Co-Is are regularly invited to give public talks at a variety of events in the local area, nationally and aboard. These include Science Festivals, Astronomy Festivals, community events, and special interest group meetings. These talks always spark a lot of questions and discussion following the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
 
Description Schools Physicist of the Year Awards 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools were asked to nominate year 9 and 12 pupils as their "Ogden schools physicist of the year". Award winners were invited to an awards ceremony with their parents and teachers. The event sparked lots of discussion and questions between the students, parents and ICG researchers. In 2016, the awards were changed to be for year 10 and year 12 pupils.

One school has requested further activities from the ICG.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017
 
Description Stargazing Live 2016 
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 650 members of the public attended the annual Stargazing Live at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard event in January 2016, organised by the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation with HMS Warrior and Action Stations. The majority of Co-Is participated in the event, engaging the audience with their research through hands-on activities, Q&As and talks. Physics undergraduate students from the University were also trained to deliver activities, developing their soft skills.

The event was very well-received by the attendees, and many reported that they would seek out further science engagement opportunities and learn more about astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Stargazing Live 2017 
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 650 members of the public attended the annual Stargazing Live at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard event in January 2017, organised by the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation with HMS Warrior and Action Stations. The majority of Co-Is participated in the event, engaging the audience with their research through hands-on activities, Q&As and talks. Physics undergraduate students from the University were also trained to deliver activities, developing their soft skills. The event was very well-received by the attendees, and many reported that they would seek out further science engagement opportunities and learn more about astronomy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stargazing at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 
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 Stargazing at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is our annual highline event at the ICG. In previous years it has coincided with the BBC shows, but this year we did it ourselves on 30th January 2019. We still had approaching 1000 members of the public across the whole Portsmouth Historic Dockyard including on the decks of HMS Warrior. A majority of ICG staff and students were involved in many demonstrations and talks, and our physics undergraduates were also helping out.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Stargazing at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2018 
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 800 members of the public attended the annual Stargazing at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard event in January 2018, organised by the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation with HMS Warrior and Action Stations. The majority of Co-Is participated in the event, engaging the audience with their research through hands-on activities, Q&As and talks. Physics undergraduate students from the University were also trained to deliver activities, developing their soft skills. The event was very well-received by the attendees, and many reported that they would seek out further science engagement opportunities and learn more about astronomy. Local councillors also attended the event and were taken on a guided tour by Professor Wands.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description TV appearance - Horizon - Nichol 
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 Professor Bob Nichol featured in an episode of BBC Horizon: Dancing in the Dark - The End of Physics?

The Horizon crew accompanied Professor Nichol to Chile and, in the documentary, he discusses the scope of cosmology, the observational evidence for the nature of dark matter, and the mystery of dark energy which is expected to occupy astrophysics for some time.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talk - "The Dark Side of the Universe" - Koyama inaugural 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Professor Koyama's inaugural lecture, attended by VIPs, members of the ICG and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description UP for Space (A Visit from Space) 
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 Monthly visit to a local primary school for a morning of talks and astronomy activities with key stage 2 pupils (usually year 5, age 9/10). Typically engaging with 45 - 90 children per visit.

Overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers including 'our students not only learned a lot about the galaxies and universe but also improved confidence to want to become scientists and find out more about science'. Two schools sent thank you letters with follow-up questions. Several schools have booked visits in consecutive years.

Overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers including 'our students not only learned a lot about the galaxies and universe but also improved confidence to want to become scientists and find out more about science'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2015,2016,2017
 
Description Work Experience Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact In 2014, 2015 and 2016 the ICG held a work experience week for Year 10 pupils to experience a cosmology research environment. Pupils were selected from local schools through a competitive process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016