Cosmology, Gravitation and Astrophysics at Portsmouth

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


This consolidated grant will support research in cosmology, gravitation and astrophysics at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) in the University of Portsmouth. The ICG was formed in 2002 through a strategic investment from the university, and now hosts more than 60 researchers making it one of the largest extragalactic astronomy groups in the UK. Portsmouth was ranked 8th in terms of quality of physics research outputs in the Research Excellence Framework 2014.

Cosmology and astrophysics are experiencing a golden age of discovery driven by new astronomical surveys and theoretical advances, and the recent detection of gravitational waves from inspiralling black holes and neutron stars. 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. We will exploit current and forthcoming galaxy surveys like DES, LSST, 4MOST, SDSS, DESI and Euclid to quantify the Universe using complementary probes such as the clustering of galaxies, supernovae and weak gravitational lensing. These data will be complemented with new gravitational wave observations from the LIGO and VIRGO experiments. 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 true nature of the Universe.

Our work will help us understand and measure the evolution of the Universe throughout its entire history. We will use standard candles, such as supernovae, and standard rulers, such as baryon acoustic oscillations in the galaxy correlation functions, to chart the cosmic expansion over time. We will study how quantum fluctuations in the very early universe may be stretched by cosmic inflation 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 or alternative gravity theories 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 obtain a fuller understanding of the characteristics of galaxies throughout cosmic time. We will study the origin of the supermassive black holes at the centre of primeval galaxies and the first quasars, and trace their merger history through the detection of gravitational waves. We will use astronomical surveys to understand how galaxies form by studying their stellar contents in ever greater detail.

ICG staff are committed to engaging the public in their research, e.g., "Entropy", which is an immersive art performance based on cosmology, and online citizen science projects like Supernova Hunter and Gravity Spy. In addition, our staff visit many local schools and colleges, and run an annual Stargazing event at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for hundreds of participants. We also seek innovation from our research, using our skills and experiences to develop novel solutions to everyday problems, e.g. detecting faulty smart meters, improving emergency room care, and training the next generation of data scientists.

Planned Impact

The ICG is committed to obtaining impact from our research. As part of the South-East Physics Network (SEPnet;, we have access to a regional network of outreach and employer engagement officers in addition to the SEPnet Outreach and Employability Directors. We also have three full-time staff to support the delivery of impact: Jen Gupta (SEPnet/Ogden Trust Public Engagement and Outreach Manager), Nic Bonne (Isaac Physics Widening Participation Fellow and Tactile Universe Outreach Officer) and Gill Prosser (SEPnet IPS Fellow).

Our impact strategy is:

Engagement with School Children: Our new schools outreach programme works with partner schools to engage with the same school pupils throughout their school career (ages 9-18). We will deliver workshops and other activities through this programme, using our research to inspire pupils and encourage them to study physics at a higher level.

Engagement with Visually Impaired (VI) Children: Tactile Universe enables people with VI to engage with our astrophysics research. Working with children in primary and secondary schools we will demonstrate that astrophysics is accessible to them. Over the grant period we will nationally launch this project, with international connections in South America (funded by the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development). The importance of the project has been recognised by SEPnet, who awarded the Tactile Universe its Public Engagement Innovation Project award in 2017.

Engagement through Citizen Science: The ICG has a decade of experience with online citizen science projects like GalaxyZoo and the Zooniverse. Zooniverse engages millions of people across the world in 70 active projects, we are one of only two UK universities with institutional membership. ICG provides dedicate support and development to the Zooniverse (Krawczyk) and plan to continue our involvement

Engagement through Large Events: ICG runs an annual Stargazing Live event in the Portsmouth Dockyard, attended by 800 people in Jan 2018. We will hold at least one large-scale public event each year during this grant and support ICG members to create new activities and demos of their research for use at such events. We also support Entropy, an immersive art performance which has reached over 2000 people since 2017. Staff also provide numerous public talks to interested groups (astronomy societies) and in public venues (e.g. Astronomy on Tap)

Student Industrial Engagement: To address the shortage of STEM graduates, identified by the government's Industrial Strategy, we will enhance our training through industry placements for all our PhD students and some PDRAs. Placements will be sourced through our "Data Intensive Science Centre in SEPNet" (DISCNet,, an STFC-funded doctoral training centre. We recently received GCRF funding (from STFC) to extending DISCnet training to South African (SA-DISCnet), including industrial placements for both UK and African students. ICG will also host regular "Deep Data Dives" (D3) events where PhD students and PDRAs will apply their knowledge and codes to an organisation's data intensive problems. The first D3 will be with Portsmouth City Council in 2018.

Staff Industrial Engagement: ICG is developing a portfolio of strategic innovation activities with key external sectors. This programme will use data-intensive skills developed through STFC-funded research and DISCnet to address the "Grand Challenges of Growing AI and Data-Driven Economy" identified in the government's Industrial Strategy. Initial projects are in smart meters, cardiovascular data, and risk analysis of environmental hazards.

See our Pathways to Impact for the full details.


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Description Dark Energy Survey (DES) 
Organisation Dark Energy Survey (DES)
Country Global 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Scientific leadership and guidance, preparation of simulations, 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
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
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, construction and science preparation for the Euclid satellite mission.
Impact Involvement in many aspects of Euclid design and management, and funding from the UK Space Agency.
Start Year 2008
Description Kings College Hospital Trust 
Organisation King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (NCH)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Expertise and skills in data science based on astronomical data analysis techniques, for challenges in cardiology
Collaborator Contribution Access to unique cardiology data including clinical expertise in interpreting data analysis results
Impact Results are still being analysed, but looking profitable to find better treatments for emergency health care.
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 We will have access to unique astronomical data.
Start Year 2018
Description SDSS 
Organisation Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III)
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 proprietary data.
Impact Many peer-reviewed academic publications (see list of publications)
Start Year 2006
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 2019,2020
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 highlight event at the ICG, this year carried out on 29th January 2020. We had approximately 1000 members of the public visit, engaged in hands-on astronomy related activities in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard including on the decks of HMS Warrior. A majority of ICG staff and students, together with our physics undergraduates, were involved in the demonstrations and talks.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020