Queen's University Belfast Consolidated Grant in Solar Physics and Solar System Studies 2020 - 2023

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Mathematics and Physics


Our Consolidated Grant covers a number of research projects in solar physics, and the study of solar system bodies, undertaken by staff within the Astrophysics Research Centre of the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University Belfast. All projects fall within the remit of the Solar Studies (SS) and Planetary Studies (PL) sub-panels of the STFC Astronomy Grants Panel. The solar physics projects involve observational and computational studies of the Sun's atmosphere from the photosphere to the corona, focusing primarily on high cadence imaging and spectroscopy of dynamical events on small spatial scales. Topics for investigation will include wave generation, propagation and dissipation, the generation and evolution of magnetic fields, and the study of the corona during total solar eclipses. Projects on solar system bodies include measuring precise brightness and light scattering functions for hundreds of thousands of asteroids, detecting asteroid collisions, and studying the chemical makeup of distant comets.

Planned Impact

1. Public engagement

The research fields covered by our application - solar physics and studies of solar system objects - are extremely well suited to public engagement activities, as the sources are often observable either with the naked eye or small, portable telescopes (which can hence be easily provided at public events). We have a popular outreach portfolio, continually updated, linked to our Consolidate Grant (CG) programmes. It has major societal impact, especially with schoolchildren. Our ongoing outreach activities, plus upcoming special events linked to our CG programmes, are summarised below.

- An annual 4-day Summer School for ~40 UK 5th- and 6th-form students, centred around physics and including one full day on CG-related talks and workshops.

- NI Science Festival, held every February, at which we give talks on our research, attended by ~300 people. Fitzsimmons is a Board Member of the Festival.

- Stargazing Live and Jupiter/Moon Watches - we contribute to these regular events in our CG programmes, such as a partial solar eclipse linked to the total eclipse in August 2017, including the provision of telescopes for public use. Typical attendance is 400 per event. Future events include the solar eclipse in December 2020 (not visible from NI but we will have a link to our eclipse team in S America), and Mercury transit in November 2019.

- Asteroid Day Live - we have contributed to this international event for the past 2 years, with participation in the live TV/on-line debates and presentations in Luxembourg.

- We run an annual work experience programme for 6th-formers, and typically have 2 students per year in our CG programmes.

- We provide at least 1 talk per year on CG programmes to the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA) monthly meetings, and host these at no cost to the IAA in one of our lecture theatres.

- We have a talks programme for schools, with those related to the CG programmes including 'Death of the Dinosaurs' and 'Why is the Sky Blue?', delivered about 5 times per year.

2. Knowledge exchange engagement

We have 2 programmes directly linked to our CG programmes.

1.2.1 Development of sCMOS cameras:

We have worked closely with Andor Technology to develop large-format, high-speed sCMOS cameras for the DKIST solar telescope, funded by a PPRP grant. The sCMOS cameras are initially targeted primarily at the needs of solar telescopes and the broader astronomy community. There is currently a demand for large-area CCD cameras, and it is anticipated that a significant fraction of the astronomy market will migrate towards sCMOS detectors, which offer lower noise and faster speeds. Applications outside solar physics include the tracking of space debris, near-Earth objects, occultations, wavefront sensing and speckle imaging. There is a substantial worldwide astronomy market, with continued investment in existing and new astronomical facilities in China, Europe, India and the US. Andor are witnessing strong interest in this camera, and have received a number of pre-orders. Marketing material has been prepared and there are plans for an official product launch in early 2019.

1.2 Biomarkers

With Randox Laboratories we have recently (May 2017) established at Queen's an R&D Engineering Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Applications. The focus of the Centre is to design custom image processing solutions that can be utilised specifically for biomedical applications. For example, one area of investigation is methods to increase the sensitivity of detection for biomarkers, in turn improving the detection window for elevated levels of biomarkers, so that they can be identified earlier and treatment started sooner. It is envisaged that the new image processing solutions will undergo initial patient trails in 2020, and come to market by 2022.


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