Ernest Rutherford Fellows

Featured Fellow

Dr Pin Wu
STFC Daphne Jackson Fellow, Queen's University Belfast
Title of Research: Magnetic reconnection in astrophysical plasmas

More than 99% of the visible universe, the stars, galaxies and the matter spread between them, are ionised gas, so-called plasma. Most plasmas can be viewed as magnetic field carrying, electrically conducting fluids. The magnetic fields are highly variable: tangled, twisted, and are continuously pushed together or pulled apart with the plasma flow. When pushed together, oppositely directed components of magnetic field lines can break and subsequently reconnect.

Magnetic reconnection can lead to fierce and stormy releases of energy that drive explosive events such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares. The energetic particle bursts from such storms can damage satellites, harm astronauts, disrupt communications, and in extreme cases shut down power grids. Understanding how reconnection occurs and dissipates energy can help us improve our predictive capability for space weather. Outside our solar system, reconnection also operates in accretion disk, supernova, or in the outflows of active galactic nuclei, pulsars or black holes.

The fundamental questions of reconnection centre on why it occurs so violently fast and what triggers its onset. The difficulty in theoretical efforts are due to the nonlinearity of the problems. The principal computational challenge lies in the need of computing resources necessary to cover all the relevant micro- and macro- scales in three dimensions with the appropriate consideration of boundary conditions. In-situ space borne observations are limited by local measurements. To resolve the whole puzzle, requires a complementary approach, that combines theoretical predictions with experimental measurements.

The first part of my research focuses on analysing observations of reconnection related events in the lower solar atmosphere by NASA's IRIS and SDO space missions. Currently, the primary focus of my research is to simulate laboratory laser driven reconnection using the EPOCH code. The aim is to assist future experiments into emerging field of laboratory astrophysics, and to shed light on reconnection dynamics for astrophysics.

Previous Featured Fellows

Dr Andreas Schmitt
STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, University of Southampton
Title of Research: Dense matter in compact stars

Neutron stars - objects with a mass of 1-2 solar masses and a radius of about 10 km - contain the densest matter in the universe. This ultra-dense matter is very different from ordinary matter on earth: the density in the interior of the star is sufficiently large for the atomic nuclei to overlap, and thus fundamental properties of the strong nuclear force become crucial to understand macroscopic, observable properties of neutron stars. Neutron stars are therefore complex systems that are governed by the theory of the strong nuclear force, Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).

My research is centred around this "condensed matter physics of QCD", both from a theoretical perspective and from an astrophysical point of view. The theoretical aspects concern for instance the structure of the QCD phase diagram, which is poorly known because even brute force calculations fail in the regime of large baryon densities. One fundamental question is at which density the deconfinement transition occurs and whether it is a discontinuous phase transition. The astrophysical version of this question is whether there is deconfined quark matter in the core of the neutron star or whether the star is made entirely out of nuclear matter. I am addressing this question with various theoretical methods, for instance employing the so-called gauge/gravity correspondence or using effective theories and phenomenological models to describe nuclear and quark matter.

As in usual condensed matter systems, the phase structure of dense QCD is expected to be very rich. Nucleons and quarks can form Cooper pairs similar to electrons in ordinary superconductors. Therefore, neutron stars may host complicated superfluid and superconducting interiors, including magnetic flux tubes and superfluid vortices. I am investigating these phases and their hydrodynamic properties, trying to understand and explain various astrophysical observations, such as pulsar glitches or the cooling behaviour of neutron stars. Understanding microscopic, fundamental physics from neutron stars is an exciting field of research also because of the recent discovery of gravitational waves from a neutron star merger, which opens up new possibilities to improve our knowledge of the condensed matter physics of QCD.

Dr Erminia Calabrese
STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Cardiff University
Title of Research: Precision cosmology from early and late-time surveys

Our best understanding of the origins and evolution of the Universe is driven by observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), a relic light that has been travelling for almost 14 billion years since the Big Bang. Over the last two decades, CMB data have led the establishment of a standard model of cosmology, ‘ΛCDM’: we live in a geometrically flat Universe filled with photons, neutrinos, normal baryons and mysterious dark components (dark matter and dark energy). Cosmic structures were seeded by tiny initial density ripples thought to be stretched to cosmological scales during ‘cosmic inflation’ and then grown under gravity. Although supported by many astrophysical and cosmological data, this model is heavily incomplete from a theoretical point of view: did cosmic inflation really happen? If yes, what drove it? What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? What is the absolute mass scale of neutrinos? My research spans theoretical work and statistical data analysis of state-of-the-art CMB data to answer these fundamental questions.

The CMB has been recently mapped with unprecedented precision by the ESA’s Planck satellite. The final Planck data provide strong support to the ΛCDM model and constrain its basic parameters to sub-percent accuracy. The next steps in CMB cosmology are now driven by improved measurement of CMB polarization from ground-based telescopes, including ACT (the Atacama Cosmology Telescope). Alongside CMB data, observations of galaxies’ shape and distribution test the physics of the local Universe (i.e. of the last 10 billion years). Combining CMB and galaxy data is crucial to reduce the impact of instrumental and astrophysical systematics and to distinguish physical processes which would be otherwise degenerate.

As part of my ERF work, I contribute to the analysis of the Planck data and lead data characterization and scientific exploitation of ACT CMB data, alone and in combination with galaxy data.

Dr Andrew Hillier
STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, University of Exeter
Title of Research: Magnetism and Fluid Flows in our Solar-Planetary Environment

Solar prominences (otherwise known as filaments) are one of the most fascinating structures in the solar atmosphere. They can be observed as cloud-like features that are comprised of relatively cool plasma (10,000 K) embedded in the hot corona (1,000,000 K) which is supported against gravity by the magnetic fields that permeate the solar atmosphere. The eruption of prominences lead to coronal mass ejections (a collection of mass and magnetic field violently ejected from the Sun) which are of great importance for their space weather effects.

The launch of the Hinode satellite in 2006 followed by the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) in 2013 provided new eyes with which to look at the solar atmosphere, and the wavelengths of light (some of which are emitted by plasma around 10,000K) under study by these missions made them perfect for observing prominences. These observations have revolutionised our understanding of prominences, showing that prominences can be highly dynamic across all their observable spatial and temporal scales, making them a wonderful laboratory to study magnetised fluid dynamics. However, in many cases the physical processes behind these dynamics are still to be made clear. My fellowship is about both theoretically and observationally understanding these dynamics and determining their effects across the observed scales of the prominence and beyond.

A key component of my work in determining how instabilities and other processes can create these wonderful dynamics comes from the fact that prominence plasma mainly consists of neutrally charged atoms that cannot directly interact with the magnetic field. The way these neutral species can experience magnetic forces is indirectly, by colliding with charged species resulting in an exchange of momentum. So as part the turbulent motions in prominences driven by magnetic forces, it is important to comprehend how the neutrals respond, and how this changes, for example, the heating in the plasma. However, my focus is not only on these, relatively speaking, small spatial and temporal scales. The impact of all the observed dynamics may be important in determining how the prominence system can slowly evolve to become unstable and erupt (i.e. through a huge number of tiny motions producing a big change), and I am also looking into this process.

Dr Timothy Davis
STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Cardiff University
Title of Research: The cycle of life, death and rebirth in massive early-type galaxies; star formation, black holes and feedback

My research focuses on understanding the most massive galaxies in the local universe. These objects are made up of billions of old stars, have red optical colours, and are generally thought to be free of cold gas - the fuel for new stars. Thus they are often described as ”red and dead”. Astronomers still don’t know what caused these galaxies to die, or if they can come back to life again.

One of the ways astronomers think that massive galaxies become ”red and dead” is due to supermassive black-holes. These enigmatic objects are ubiquitous, and strongly linked to galaxy formation, as they seem to grow in step with their galaxy host. In order to understand the role of black holes in the formation of galaxies I have developed a new technique to measure their masses, by tracing the motions of molecular gas clouds swirling around them. As an Ernest Rutherford fellow, one of my main activities is leading a team of researchers using extremely high spatial resolution data from ALMA (the Atacama Millimetre/Submillimetre Array) to reveal the dark monsters lurking at the hearts of nearby galaxies.

Massive galaxies, like the ones I study, don’t have to stay ”red and dead” forever. They can come back to life if material from dying stars cools, becoming fuel for a new generation of stars. They can also merge with other small galaxies and steal their gas. As part of my research I study these processes, revealing that around 1/4 of the massive ”red and dead” galaxies around us today are currently in the process of being reborn. These regenerated galaxies don’t seem to be using this new fuel very effectively, however, and form stars very inefficiently when compared to galaxies like our own Milky Way. As a Rutherford fellow I aim to find out why this is happening, and what this can tell us about the physics controlling star formation across the universe.

Dr Kate Maguire
Lecturer and STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Queen's University Belfast
Awarded ERF 2015
Title of Research: Understanding cosmological probes: constraining the progenitors and diversity of Type Ia supernovae

Supernovae are the extremely bright explosions resulting from the violent deaths of stars. They have a major influence on many areas of astrophysics but they are perhaps best known for their use in measuring distances in the Universe. The homogenous nature of a particular type of exploding star, Type Ia supernovae, led to the discovery of the mysterious cosmological quantity, dark energy, that we now know makes up ~70% of the mass-energy of the Universe but whose origin remains unknown.

Future state-of-the-art surveys (e.g. the European Space Agency mission, Euclid and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, LSST) are being designed to constrain theories of dark energy using larger supernova samples. However, to distinguish between these theories, it is very important to understand the elusive properties of the supernovae themselves. This is the aim of my Ernest Rutherford fellowship.

Surprisingly despite their use in precision measurements of dark energy, we still do not understand the stellar systems that explode as Type Ia supernovae. Key questions to be addressed include: 'Is there more than one way to make a Type Ia supernovae?', 'How exactly do they explode?' and 'How do the properties of the galaxies within which they explode affect their explosions?'.

My aim is not only to unveil the stellar systems that explode as Type Ia supernovae but also to understand how their properties may evolve throughout the Universe. In the earlier Universe, galaxies had different properties to those forming today, which has been shown to have a subtle, but measurable, influence on the properties of Type Ia supernovae.

I am using data from some of the world's largest telescopes at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, combined with theoretical modelling of their explosions, to understand the origin of Type Ia supernova and constrain their diversity. This project is very timely with the potential for significant breakthroughs in Type Ia supernovae research to be made before the next-generation transient survey, LSST, begin in ~2021.

Dr. Darren Price
Senior Lecturer and STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, University of Manchester
Awarded ERF 2015
Title of Research: Using the LHC as an electroweak boson collider: a novel laboratory for dark matter, neutrino, and new electroweak phenomena

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN collides protons together around one billion times per second in the highest energy ever produced in the laboratory. The ATLAS experiment collects the vast amounts of data from the particles produced in these collisions. Particle physicists such as myself sift through this data to make sense of the collisions, and investigate the particles that make up our Universe and the interactions between them.

Protons are composite objects, made from a complex mix of quarks and gluons held together by the strong force. At the LHC the majority of proton collisions producing particles we see in our detectors are due to collisions between gluons or quarks inside the two protons. But what if undiscovered particles don't interact directly with the colliding quarks and gluons? Or only do so extremely rarely? In such circumstances it is very difficult to see the subtle signatures of these new particles amongst the deluge of data from far more common interactions.

In fact, many of the mysteries we aim to solve may be related to the electroweak force rather than the strong force: what is dark matter, the substance that appears to make up 85% of the mass of our Universe -- is it a weakly-interacting particle? Why is the mass of the neutrino so much smaller than that of the other known fundamental particles? Is the discovered Higgs boson alone in providing masses to the fundamental particles? To answer these questions, my research focuses on isolating the rare processes where the quarks from incoming protons each emit weak bosons (carriers of the electroweak force) that collide instead of the quarks themselves. This process, known as vector boson fusion, effectively turns the LHC from a proton collider into an electroweak boson collider!

My research initially focused on developing techniques to reliably and precisely extract the signatures of these rare events from typical proton--proton collisions. The success of these techniques enabled first observation and accurate measurement of predicted electroweak processes that occur once in every hundred million million collisions at the LHC. Building on this, my research has now extended into the first measurements of collisions producing invisible particles (known and unknown!) through electroweak interactions, such as dark matter. As we are searching for the unknown, a key aspect to the measurement design and the data released is that it is easily preserved and easily reinterpretable, so that new theories coming along in the future can be readily tested against existing data. With more LHC collisions this year, we will soon have data to extend this approach to search for other unexpected phenomena, providing new insights into our Universe.

Dr Izaskun Jiménez-Serra
Lecturer and STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Queen Mary University of London
Awarded ERF 2014
Title of Research: Massive Star Formation with New Generation Interferometers

Massive stars - stars with masses larger than 8 times the mass of the Sun - are rare in our Galaxy. However, they dominate the energetics and feedback of galaxies shaping their structure and largely impacting on their evolution. Massive stars are also the source of heavy elements, essential in metabolic processes in living organisms. Understanding the processes that lead to the formation of massive stars is therefore crucial to determine their role not only in galaxy structure and evolution, but also in the production of heavy elements key for life.

Astronomical facilities operating at infrared wavelengths such as the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, have revealed the earliest stages of massive star formation characterized by filamentary structures of dust and molecular gas viewed as shadows against the background of our own Galaxy. Theoretical models of molecular cloud formation predict that these filaments could form in giant collisions of gentle molecular gas flows, which would then trigger the formation of massive stars and star clusters. However, little observational evidence does exist supporting this scenario.

To unveil the physical processes that lead to the formation of massive stars, I observationally cover all stages of early massive star birth from the initial conditions in molecular filaments, to the later stages where massive stars are embedded in hot and dense cocoons of molecular gas and dust. For this reason, I use molecules (and their chemistry) as probes of the physical mechanisms involved in this process. Since the regions where massive stars form are distant from us, new generation interferometers such as the Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array (ALMA), and in the future the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), are needed to image their internal physical and chemical structure with exquisite detail. This research will advance our understanding of how massive star formation takes place in our Galaxy, and of how it impacts galaxy structure and evolution.

Dr Simon Dye
Associate Professor in Astrophysics, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham
Awarded ERF 2015
Title of Research: The Evolution of Mass and Light in Galaxies

Over the last couple of decades, the question of how large scale structure in the Universe formed and evolved has been one of the most fiercely contested topics in astrophysics. Galaxies are the Universeʼs building blocks and as such are fundamental to a mature and complete understanding of the processes governing the Universeʼs construction.

Despite this, we still lack a satisfactory picture of how galaxies themselves are built and how they evolve. One of the primary reasons for this is that existing work to quantify the total mass structure of galaxies has been limited to relatively small samples of galaxies in the nearby Universe.

Strong gravitational lensing is a naturally occurring phenomenon which can be exploited to act as a powerful probe of the mass in galaxies.

Galaxy-galaxy lens systems occur when the gravitational field of a galaxy located mid-way along the line of sight from Earth to a very distant galaxy focuses the distant galaxy's light towards Earth. In this way, the nearer galaxy acts like a lens, giving us a highly magnified but highly distorted view of the distant galaxy. Analysis of the lensed image of the distant galaxy allows detailed study of not only the distant galaxy itself, but also the distribution of dark and baryonic mass in the nearer lensing galaxy.

Dr Dye's work concentrates on using strong galaxy-galaxy lens systems to help disentangle the complex physical processes at play in the formation of galaxies. In particular, he is analysing an exciting new large sample of such lenses uncovered by the Herschel Space Observatory. Observing at sub-millimetre wavelengths means that both the lensing and lensed galaxies detected lie at significantly larger distances on average than existing galaxy-galaxy systems discovered at optical wavelengths. Because they are more distant and because the speed of light is finite, a snapshot of an earlier phase in their lifetime is obtained. Study of the sample is made possible by the fantastic high resolution imaging capability of the Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array which, in combination with the intrinsic magnification caused by the gravitational lensing, affords a highly detailed view of the structure and formation mechanisms of the lensed galaxies when they were younger. The work is therefore helping us gain new insights into the formation of galaxy structure at a time when the Universe was undergoing much more dramatic evolution.

Dr Alexander Mitov
Reader in Theoretical Physics, Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge
Awarded ERF 2013
Title of Research: Center for precision LHC studies

To unravel the workings of the Universe one needs to understand the fundamental forces and constituents of matter. This is achieved with the help of particle accelerators: the higher the accelerator energy the smaller the distances that are being probed. The current highest energy collider - the LHC, near Geneva in Switzerland - has the unprecedented ability to produce possible, yet-undiscovered heavy particles and probe their interactions down to extremely small distances.

At colliders, we do not directly observe the particles we hope to study. This is especially the case for possible as-of-yet undetected beyond the Standard Model particles since, due to their expected large mass, they would immediately decay to other known particles. The decay process will typically undergo several stages and will produce hundreds of particles which eventually will be registered in our detectors.

At this point, one may be surprised to hear that the real problem is not with the description of states with very large number of particles; we have the ability to describe those! The real problem particle physicists face is that the Standard Model almost always has a number of ways to produce such final states without the need for extra intermediate heavy particles. Therefore, the ultimate question to address is: how can we tell from the observation of a particular final state if a new particle that was not directly seen may have been present or not?

The work of Dr. Mitov aims at resolving precisely the above ambiguity by deriving with the highest achieved precision the predictions of the Standard Model for complex yet ubiquitous final states. Such precise predictions allow the LHC experimental collaborations to search for signals from New Physics by observing final states a little bit more (or less) often than what is predicted by the Standard Model. His interests cover many collider processes at all high-energy particle colliders. His current focus is on top quark physics. He is also keenly interested in the development of novel theoretical methods that would allow us to tackle even more challenging collider processes.

Dr Pat Scott
Lecturer in Fundamental Physics and STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Imperial College London
Awarded ERF March 2014
Title of Research: The astroparticle road to new physics

Imagine living your life in a 5-person household where you don't know the names or faces of your 4 housemates. This is the situation that astronomers and particle physicists find themselves in right now with the matter in our own Galaxy. Dark matter makes up over 80% of the Milky Way, and the Universe as a whole, but we still don't know what it actually is.

Many theories predict that this mystery is in some way associated with the Higgs boson, the origin of mass, and the existence of an as-yet-undiscovered symmetry about to be unveiled at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). My research aims to uncover the identity of dark matter, and the broader particle theory responsible for it.

To do this, I put together the results of many different experimental searches for dark matter and other new particles. These range from the LHC to smaller accelerators, gamma-ray telescopes, cosmic antimatter probes, ultra-clean experiments in the world's deepest mines, and a neutrino telescope embedded in the Antarctic ice. I make detailed theoretical predictions of each experimental result in range of different theories, and then compare them to the actual observations, in order to determine which theories provide the best simultaneous fit to all the available data. To make this sort of large-scale evaluation of theories possible, I lead the work of a collaboration of 30 other theorists and experimentalists from across astronomy and particle physics. Together we have developed GAMBIT (The Global and Modular Beyond-the-Standard-Model Inference Tool), a computational framework for carrying out such large-scale analyses across a wide range of different theories and experiments.

Dr Mikako Matsuura
STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Cardiff University
Awarded ERF in 2014
Title: Dust formation by supernovae and asymptotic giant branch stars

The supernova explosions of massive stars lead to synthesis of heavy elements. These newly synthesized elements are ejected from the stars into the interstellar medium of galaxies. Many generations of star-formation and subsequent death of stars enrich the interstellar medium with heavy elements. Recent models suggest that supernovae are responsible for enriching interstellar medium not only with heavy elements but also dust grains. My fellowship aims to test the hypothesis if supernovae could be a really important source of dust.

Dust grains are small particles, with a typical size of 100 Angstrom to 1 micron. Their compositions include silicon, oxygen, carbon, which are typically synthesized in supernovae or their progenitor stars. While the supernova explosion itself is one of the biggest energetic explosions in space, the gas left behind the explosion eventually cools down. If the gas temperature drops sufficiently cold enough for the elements to sublimate into dust grains, supernovae and supernova remnants can be important sites of dust formation.

In the last decade, infrared observations began to detect dust in supernovae. Typically, astronomers reported dust masses of 10-6 to 10-4 solar mass per supernovae, but this is insufficient to account for the large amount of dust found in the interstellar medium of galaxies. Theoretical models predict about 0.1 to 1 solar mass of dust per supernova is needed for supernovae to be important source of dust. A breakthrough came with our Herschel Space Observatory’s detection of dust in supernova 1987A, the youngest supernova explosion detected in the last 400 years. Our inferred dust mass was about half a solar mass, which is exactly what theoretical models have been predicted. Now, my research aims have developed into investigating how dust grains have been formed in the first place, using the Atacama Millimetre/Submillimetre Array (ALMA), NASA’s airborne telescope, SOFIA, and European’s eight-meter telescope, Very Large Telescope, with anticipated future observations of NASA and ESA’s space mission, JWST.

Dr Carolyn Devereux
STFC funded Daphne Jackson Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire
Awarded DJF March 2016
Title of research: Tracing the Dark Matter Cosmic Web

The standard model of cosmology is the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (LCDM) model. It is based on the hot Big Bang followed by expansion which is now accelerating due to dark energy (L), and the existence of cold dark matter (CDM) that provides the framework for the formation of galaxies. We have yet to discover what dark energy is and, although we see the effects of dark matter (for example on the rotation speed of galaxies), we have yet to determine what dark matter consists of. Therefore, there are some big questions still to be answered in cosmology.

My research maps visible galaxies (the baryonic matter) to the distribution of dark matter. Knowing how these overlap provides insight into the large-scale structure of the Universe known as the Cosmic Web, consisting of clusters, voids and filaments, and develops our understanding of the role dark matter plays in the evolution of galaxies.

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the remnant light from the Big Bang. The CMB radiation is gravitationally deflected by large masses it encounters on its way to Earth. By measuring the deflection (gravitational lensing) we can determine the projected matter distribution over the sky. The research uses the map of this distribution from the CMB lensing map provided by the Planck project and correlates it to the position of radio galaxies (from FIRST and LOFAR galaxy surveys) to investigate how these luminous galaxies trace the Cosmic Web. This research will help us understand the complex relationship between galaxy growth and dark matter.

Associate Professor of Space Physics, University of Southampton
Awarded ERF in 2014.
Title: Mass transport and loss in planetary and astrophysical plasmas.

The aim of my fellowship is to understand how charged material (plasma) is transported in the space around the planets Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn, and around stars in our galaxy and beyond. The solar wind is a stream of plasma that comes off the Sun and blows out into interplanetary space. Some planets have their own invisible magnetic field which stretches huge distances out into space and acts like a "shield", holding off this solar wind flow so that much of it is deflected around the planet. Behind this shield lies the planet's magnetosphere, like a giant magnetic bubble. Outside of our solar system, there are similar "winds", blowing near stars and creating stellar magnetospheres. Both planetary and stellar magnetospheres are full of plasma. Plasma parcels are "tied" to magnetic field lines, like beads on a string. My work will involve examining the “mass budget” of magnetospheres: deciphering how much material enters, how it moves around, and how much leaves. This will involve using a range of instruments on spacecraft to explore processes including plasma interchange and magnetic reconnection, as well as using telescopes to image these systems from afar.

We know quite a lot about processes such as interchange and reconnection in Earth's magnetosphere because there are many satellites flying around in space near Earth measuring these plasma motions. However, we can learn much more by applying this knowledge further afield and exploring how the situation may be different in other environments. Saturn and Jupiter are huge planets which rotate very rapidly and have a lot of plasma inside their magnetospheres due to exotic volcanic moons and rings. Mercury on the other hand is a much smaller planet and is much more vulnerable to the effects of the solar wind blowing at it as it is so close to the Sun. Stellar magnetospheres are the most dramatic of all due to their enormous size. It is fascinating to think that energy release processes at stars many millions of kilometres away can be so dramatic that we can observe them with telescopes here on Earth! Every planet and every star has a unique character, which is why I find studying similar physics in these exotic and diverse environments so challenging. The rewards for studying a range of environments for me are much greater than studying one place only.

STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow and Data Scientist, University of Edinburgh
Awarded ERF in 2014.
Title: The Roles of the Mid-infrared and Surveys in the Life and Times of Quasars

Black holes are intriguing objects. These regions of the Universe where mass is so dense, and gravity so strong, that even light cannot escape, were once thought mere oddities due to their extreme properties. Today, however, black holes are now thought to be vital in the formation and lives of galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Observations, including those from the Hubble Space Telescope, have discovered black holes with masses a million or more times that of the Sun lurking at the centres of nearby galaxies. However, upon analysing these data further, there are two very surprising findings. First, these aptly named "Supermassive Black Holes" are ubiquitous at the centres of galaxies, and second, there is a relationship between the mass of the black hole and the properties of the galaxy. Thus, the question arises, do black holes have an intimate relationship with their host galaxy? Do they inform, limit and influence how a galaxy - including its constituent stars and gas - forms and evolves?

One possible line of evidence supporting the idea that black holes "regulate" their host galaxies is when one considers the energy liberated by mass falling into the black holes potential well. As gas and dust fall towards a black hole, but before it gets "swallowed", an accretion disk can form which swirls around the black hole, feeding it. However, due to the intense gravitational fields, the large amounts of angular momentum and friction between the in falling layers of gas, the accretion disk can heat-up to tremendous temperatures, in the process emitting optical, ultra-violet and X-ray light. If a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy is actively accreting, then this "active galactic nucleus" is termed a quasar.

The broad aim of my research is to discover and study quasars; to find out how they are fuelled, how they generate their energy and how they can influence the host galaxies they live in. I use several telescopes across a range of wavelengths, including data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Hubble Space Telescope in the optical, and the Spitzer Space Telescope and the WISE satellite in the infrared. The infrared is important since quasars emit a considerable amount of their energy at these wavelengths, and one goal is to make sure we account fully for the entire energy production from supermassive black holes. It is with the data from these great observatories that I will discover and examine quasars, test theoretical and computer models of how quasars are fuelled, and gain new insights into how the galaxy-quasar symbiosis is achieved.

This research has potential impact and wider benefits to society in two flavours. First, the direct technological spin-offs that are associated with e.g. space-based telescopes and infrared detector technology. Second, and less immediate, this research, keeps the “awe factor” high. And it is from this, that we understand our environment, home planet and Universe that little bit more.

Dr Simon Badger
STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, Durham University
Awarded ERF in 2014
Title: Hard Processes for Hadron Colliders

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is currently taking data at an unprecedented rate and at higher energies than has ever been produced in laboratory conditions before. The aim is to probe into the smallest scales of the matter that make up our universe and to understand their interactions.

In 2012 the LHC experiments discovered an elusive missing piece in our understanding of the fundamental forces of nature - the Higgs boson. This has opened up new opportunities to study the properties of the new fundamental particle and attempt to dig deeper into the long established Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model has made some of the most precise predictions describing our universe. Despite its success, Astrophysical and Cosmological measurements have been shown to be incompatible with the Standard Model; leaving many great puzzles about how Dark Matter, Dark Energy and Gravity might fit into the tiny world of high energy collisions. While many theories have been postulated new physics to explain these phenomena, the Standard Model continues to hold up to the increasingly stringent tests performed at the LHC.

This new physics is extremely hard to pin down - the enormous backgrounds of Standard model interactions can hide the rare events that could explain the inadequacies of our current high energy theories. Precise theoretical predictions are also required to match the precision of the experiments and due to the extreme conditions created by the LHC intensive computer simulations are required. Keeping the precision of theoretical predictions in line with the experiments is a constant challenge that tests our knowledge and understanding of the mathematical framework of quantum field theory which underlies the Standard Model. Precision in this context means the computation of quantum corrections to scattering probabilities using perturbation theory. These objects have an incredibly complex structure which means many important quantities still remain unknown.

My research looks at both aspects of this problem - both in understanding the mathematical structure of the underlying theory and in applying new techniques to make precision predictions for the experiments at the LHC. Better understanding of scattering probabilities in quantum field theory can be used to make fast and efficient computer codes to describe the highest energy collisions (known has hard interactions) needed in experimental analyses. Our current computational abilities are often restricted to simple final states and I work on new techniques to extend the range of precision processes and maximise the search potential of the LHC in the future.

STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Awarded ERF in 2014
Title: Six quarks for Muster Mark!
ERF Title: Hunt for Exotic Particles: Dibaryons

The coming decade promises a revolution in our understanding of the fundamental nature of strongly interacting matter - pushed by the step changes in the quality and precision of terrestrial experiments and new vistas to observe hadronic matter in the cosmos, (e.g. neutron stars).

The fundamental theory thought to describe the strong interaction is QuantumChromoDynamics (QCD). QCD permits a large variety of bound states of quarks. Quark-anti-quark systems (mesons) and baryons (3 quarks) are the simplest options. Tetraquarks, pentaquarks, hexaquarks, hadronic molecules - are the new objects only recently starting to reveal themselves. The advance has been made possible by cutting edge experiments using beams at the frontiers of intensity coupled with large acceptance particle detectors.

Recent work led at Edinburgh established a completely new type of matter - the d*(2380) hexaquark. It is predicted to be a highly compact 6-quark state, having a volume similar to a single nucleon. As well as being a unique constraint on QCD the d* hexaquark would have a profound effect on the equation of state for nuclear matter at high densities revealing itself in catastrophic events of neutron star collisions, black hole collapses etc…

The d* also is the only multiquark state which can be produced copiously at current facilities, offering unique access to information beyond its basic quantum numbers, particularly its physical size and internal structure.

The current importance of the d* has analogy with the importance of the deuteron to nuclear physics – detailed measurement of the deuteron’s properties still provides key constraints for models of nuclei and the basic nucleon-nucleon interaction. If we want to achieve a similar predictive framework in the area of the multiquark systems, one needs to find a similar “deuteron” to fix the currently unconstrained physics parameters. The discovery of the d*(2380) hexaquark gives us such an opportunity.

A focussed programme of measurements at two of the world’s leading electromagnetic beam facilities (MAMI and JLAB) allow us to push forward the entire emerging research field of multiquark states.

STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowships

Dr James Aird University of Leicester
Dr Fabio Antonini University of Surrey
Dr Patrick Antolin University of St Andrews
Dr David Alonso Cardiff University
Dr David John Armstrong University of Warwick
Dr Matthew Auger University of Cambridge
Dr Simon Badger Durham University
Dr Sarah Badman Lancaster University
Dr Robert Burston University of Bath
Dr Mikhail Bashkanov University of York
Dr Erminia Calabrese Cardiff University
Dr Sarah Casewell University of Leicester
Dr Christopher Chen Queen Mary University of London
Dr Timothy Davis Cardiff University
Dr Richard Davison University of Cambridge
Dr Oscar Joao Campos Dias University of Southampton
Dr James Dobson University College London
Dr Simon Dye University of Nottingham
Dr Gabriel Facini University College London
Dr Robert Fear University of Southampton
Dr Andreu Font-Ribera University College London
Dr Liam Gaffney University of Liverpool
Dr Masanori Hanada University of Southampton
Dr Lucian Harland-Lang University of Oxford
Dr Andrew Hillier University of Exeter
Dr Robert George Izzard University of Surrey
Dr Caitriona Jackman University of Southampton
Dr Matthew Kenzie University of Cambridge
Dr Claudia Lederer-Woods University of Edinburgh
Dr David Long University College London
Dr Kate Maguire Queen's University of Belfast
Dr Mikako Matsuura Cardiff University
Dr Christopher McCabe King's College London
Dr Paul McFadden Newcastle University
Dr Haixing Miao University of Birmingham
Dr Matthew Middleton University of Southampton
Dr Ryan Milligan University of Glasgow
Dr Alexander Mitov University of Cambridge
Dr Christopher Nixon University of Leicester
Dr Darren Price The University of Manchester
Dr Steven Parsons University of Sheffield
Dr Nicholas Ross University of Edinburgh
Dr Giuseppe Ruggiero Lancaster University
Dr Helen Russell University of Cambridge
Dr Andreas Schmitt University of Southampton
Dr Pat Scott Imperial College London
Dr Blake Sherwin University of Cambridge
Dr Colin Snodgrass University of Edinburgh
Dr Rowan Smith The University of Manchester
Dr Romain Tartese The University of Manchester
Dr Rita Tojeiro University of St Andrews
Dr David Vegh Queen Mary University of London
Dr John Veitch University of Glasgow
Dr Daniel Verscharen University College London
Dr Dimitri Veras University of Warwick
Dr Mika Vesterinen University of Warwick
Dr Dominic Walton University of Cambridge
Dr Nicholas Wardle Imperial College London
Dr Julie Wardlow Lancaster University
Dr David Weir University of Nottingham
Dr Nicholas Wright Keele University
Dr Nicholas Zachariou University of York
Dr Svitlana Zhukovska University of Exeter

Introductory Workshop for Ernest Rutherford Fellows

On 5 March 2018 STFC held its second Introductory Workshop for newly appointed Ernest Rutherford Fellows. Thank you to those who participated in the event.

The agenda together with links to the speaker presentations are now available to view.

Last updated: 28 February 2019


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