Durham Astronomy Consolidated Grant 2017-2020

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

Astronomy attracts the imagination of the public to an extent that only very few other branches of science can match - this is due, in large part, to the fundamental nature of the questions it addresses: the origin of the Universe and our place within it. Astronomy is immediately accessible to every human by simply gazing up into the night sky to look the Moon, the planets and stars. Since the dawn of civilisation this has provoked questions about the origins of the Earth, stars and our Solar System, as well as the origins of the Universe. Over the past thirty years we have seen the emergence of a standard model in cosmology describing the constituents of our Universe, as well as a plausible explanation for the origin and evolution of all structure within it. According to this model, we live in a universe where at least two thirds of all mass-energy is now in the form of a dark energy field which is causing the Universe to expand at an ever increasing rate. About a quarter of the mass-energy is in the form of dark matter, most probably a new weakly interacting elementary particle yet to be detected on Earth (and hence of great interest to particle physicists). Only the remaining five percent of the mass-energy is in the form of ordinary, or baryonic, matter of which, at the present-day, only about a tenth is in stars and planets such as the Earth, and the rest resides mostly as gas in between galaxies. The structures formed by dark and baryonic matter are thought to have been seeded by quantum fluctuations imprinted in the density field of the Universe at the earliest instants of the Big Bang. These produced weak sound waves in the near-uniform primordial plasma that left observable imprints on the heat left over from the Big Bang, emitted when the Universe was only 400,000 years old (now visible as the Cosmic Microwave Background). These tiny ripples grew into the full richness of structures we see around us in the Universe today: galaxies, groups, clusters and larger-scale structures. It is this transformation from a near-uniform primordial soup to a cosmic web of structure that is the focus of our proposal. Our programme knits together cutting-edge theoretical research into the earliest phases of the Universe with theoretical and observational projects to determine the formation and evolution of structure in the Universe and to confront the predictions of our models with our latest observational results, while exploiting instrumentation developments pursued in Durham. We will explore astrophysical clues to the identity of the dark matter and the nature of the dark energy, focus on the evolution of galaxies back to the earliest times in the Universe and the influence which their environment has had on their properties. We will investigate the formation and evolution of black holes and their role in determining the structure and properties of galaxies and larger scale structures, using the latest instruments on ground-based observatories and Earth-orbiting satellites.

Planned Impact

We are proud of our track record at Durham of public engagement. The outreach initiative we started more than a decade ago has developed into a University-wide activity, which has, in turn, spawned the annual Celebrate Science festival in Durham (the most recent attended by almost 7,000 visitors). In our current programme we use a range of events, activities and techniques to engage with three key groups: a) the general public; b) school children; c) national and international audiences.

These activities include science festivals, Royal Society summer exhibition, public lectures, summer schools, master classes and school visits, which together reach 10-15,000 people a year across the region and nationally. To enhance the impact of our outreach we are developing demonstrations based on the science funded in our programme. These include an interactive illustration of gravitational lensing which makes innovative use of an Xbox kinect camera, laptop and large display screen to produce real time images of how people would lens their surroundings if their gravitational mass were greatly enhanced. We are continuing to develop our "Cosmic Universe" application for iPad and iPhone. This free app, which has been downloaded over 20,000 times from iTunes, allows the public to interact with the simulations of the Universe undertaken at Durham, providing a striking and effective way to visualise the size and structure of our Universe. We have plans for a more immersive experience using the Oculus rift. We produce high resolution movies of our cosmological structure formation simulations for public audiences and this year they formed the heart of the spectacular "World Machine" projection onto Durham Cathedral that was viewed by 150,000 people during the 4 day 2015 Durham Lumiere light festival (see front cover).

Our astronomical instrumentation projects include technology developments relevant to Earth Observation science (remote sensing) and we are continuing to explore the applications of compact integral field spectrometers to hyperspectral imaging. Our expertise in using adaptive optics for aberration correction has enabled the development of new techniques to image more deeply within human tissue samples whilst maintaining sub-micron resolution, whilst our experience in real-time data handling systems underpins our participation in an EPSRC CDT in Fusion Science & Technology. Finally we are investigating the commercialisation of muon tomography for carbon storage using techniques that we have developed using STFC, DECC and oil industry funding

As well as technology transfer, some of the methodology used in our theoretical and observational work has KE potential. For example, we are developing new statistical approaches to quantifying parameter uncertainties in complex computer models. This computationally efficient technique is appropriate for mapping the behaviour of models of climate change or oil extraction as well as galaxy formation models. Our work in this field has had significant impact in the statistical community, as well as attracting interest from the Bank of England as it may have application to the modelling of financial markets by regulators.

Finally, our broader research programme underpins the research development of a cohort of postgraduate students at Durham, providing them with training in specific and transferable skills. Our students are given top level training in high performance computing, including parallel programming, "Big Data" methods applied to our huge datasets and developing advanced visualization tools. Using these skills our former students have taken jobs in a range of industries from computer gaming to finance and genetics. Similarly, Physics students at Durham benefit through their participation in our research work via their 4th year MSci projects. Our technical training of these post/undergraduate students provides a pool of talented, skilled candidates to the UK economy.

Publications

10 25 50

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Agnello A (2018) Quasar lenses and pairs in the VST-ATLAS and Gaia in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Aharonian H (2018) Search for thermal X-ray features from the Crab nebula with the Hitomi soft X-ray spectrometer* in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan

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Aharonian H (2018) Hitomi observations of the LMC SNR N 132 D: Highly redshifted X-ray emission from iron ejecta* in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan

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Aharonian H (2018) Hitomi X-ray studies of giant radio pulses from the Crab pulsar* in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan

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Algorry D (2017) Barred galaxies in the EAGLE cosmological hydrodynamical simulation in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Ali K (2018) Cosmological constraints from Fourier phase statistics in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

 
Description Data Intensive Science Translation Fellow
Amount £276,889 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/R005516/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 06/2021
 
Description DiRAC-2.5 DC - Operations 2017-2020
Amount £512,169 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/R000832/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 03/2020
 
Description DiRAC: Memory Intensive 2.5x
Amount £2,120,279 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/R002371/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description ERC Advanced Grant
Amount € 2,050,275 (EUR)
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2013 
End 12/2018
 
Description PATT Linked Grant for the Durham Astrophysics Group 2016-18
Amount £41,301 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/P001157/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2018
 
Description PATT Linked Grant for the Durham Astrophysics Group 2019-20
Amount £30,347 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/S001557/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 09/2020
 
Description STFC Durham Physics 2017 DTP
Amount £735,070 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/R504725/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2021
 
Description UK Programme for the European Extremely Large Telescope - Additional Support 17/18
Amount £182,957 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/P003095/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Great Debate: Science, Rationality, and Religion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Including debates lead by a speaker representing each side of the argument. The speakers included the Bishop of Durham and academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.dur.ac.uk/ias/events/events_listings/?eventno=33785
 
Description Locomotion dark skies event with Tim Peakes Spacecraft 
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 A guided tour of the Universe
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.locomotion.org.uk/dark-sky-sessions/
 
Description Planetarium visits (~20/year) 
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 Planetarium shows to schoolchildren, social clubs (e.g., Brownies), and astronomical societies in the North East region. Shows include an understanding of objects in the night sky, the constellations, and basic physics. An excellent introduction to the excitement of astronomy and physics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL https://www.dur.ac.uk/celebrate.science/
 
Description Talking Science at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lecture on black holes: fact, fiction, or fantasy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.stfc.ac.uk/public-engagement/activities-for-the-public/visit-the-rutherford-appleton-labo...
 
Description Twitter account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Twitter account with currently over 1400 followers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://twitter.com/DarkerMatters