I am a lecturer in the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast. I hold a five-year Advanced STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow, as well as funding through an ERC Starting Grant. My research interests include explosive transients, kilonovae, cosmology, and supernova progenitors. I am interested in observational studies of stellar explosions, from exploring the diversity of supernova populations to studies constraining the progenitor characteristics of normal supernovae. Understanding the physics and explosion mechanisms of supernovae is vital for their continuing use as probes of cosmology. Recently, my research has also focussed on the exciting new area of gravitational-wave astrophysics, and the rapid discovery and follow-up of the electromagnetic counterparts, called 'kilonovae' of gravitational wave triggers.
June 2018 - present: European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (€1.9M)
June 2018 - present: Lecturer in Astrophysics, Queen's University Belfast, UK
Oct. 2015 - present: STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow (5-year advanced fellowship), Queen’s University Belfast, UK
Oct. 2013 - Sept. 2015: Marie-Curie fellow, European Southern Observatory, Germany
Oct. 2010 - Sept. 2013: Post-doctoral researcher, University of Oxford, UK
Oct. 2007 - Sept. 2010: PhD in Astrophysics, Queen's University Belfast, UK
My research covers a broad range of topics in supernova and extra-galactic explosive transient research. In particular, my research focuses on the following topics:
Electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational waves:
In August 2017, the era of multimessenger astronomy began with the detection of an astrophysical source via both gravitational waves and photons. This offers a new way to study the Universe. On 17 August 2017, for the first time, we both heard (via gravitational waves from the LIGO/VIRGO detector) and saw (via electromagnetic radiation) the merger of two neutron stars in the distant Universe (e.g. Smartt et al. incl. KM 2017). Through detailed measurements of its properties, we determined that neutron star mergers are key site of r-process nucleosynthesis in the Universe.
The 'Electromagnetic Counterparts of Gravitational Wave sources at the Very Large Telescope' ENGRAVE collaboration is the leading European effort (with ~200 members) for gravitational wave follow-up of gravitational wave triggers. I am a member of the ENGRAVE Executive Committee, which is responsible for the day-to-day management and survey strategy of this large collaboration.
Type Ia supernovae: from explosions to cosmology:
Type Ia supernovae are the incredibly luminous deaths of white dwarfs in binary systems. They play a vital role in chemical enrichment, galaxy feedback, stellar evolution, and were instrumental in the discovery of dark energy. However, what are the progenitor systems of SNe Ia, and how they explode remains a mystery. My ERC starting grant, SUPERSTARS, aims to obtain novel early-time observations (within hours of explosion) of 100 SNe Ia in a volume-limited search (<75 Mpc). The targets will come from high-cadence searches, such as ATLAS, that will provide unprecedented sky coverage and cadence (>20000 square degrees, up to four times a night). These data will be combined with key progenitor diagnostics of each supernova (companion interaction, circumstellar material, central density studies). The observed zoo of transients predicted to result from white-dwarf explosions (He- shell explosions, tidal-disruption events, violent mergers) will also be investigated, with the goal of constraining the mechanisms by which white dwarfs can explode.
For this project, I will use data from the (e)PESSTO survey, which has been in operation since 2012. ePESSTO stands for the European Southern Observatory Public Spectroscopic Survey and is currently operating at New Technology Telescope at La Silla until mid 2019. I am chair of the (e)PESSTO Target and Alert Team, which is responsible for selection and prioritisation of targets and follow-up strategies. I am also P.I. of the PESSTO science group, 'Thermonuclear supernovae in remote locations', which is investigating SNe in locations far from their host galaxies and in faint dwarf galaxies. This new supernova sample will cover a range of galaxy environments to constrain supernova diversity over the history of the Universe.
LSST - a revolution in transient research:
The revolutionary $800 million dollar experiment, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), will begin operations in the early 2020s. It will discover an order of magnitude more transients than previously possible and explore the extremes of the transient sky. In particular, it will discover fast-evolving transients that were discovered in only low numbers by previous surveys. Our aim is to find them as soon as possible after the explosion so we can constrain how and why they explode. Unusual objects such as AT2018cow (Prentice, Maguire, et al. 2018, arXiv version) are pushing the boundaries of the currently available stellar explosion models. I am actively involved in the supernova working group of the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration, as well as a board member of LSST:UK.
The bottleneck for science returns from LSST will be spectroscopic classification and follow-up, which is why we have formed the Time-Domain Extragalactic Survey (TiDES) within the 4MOST consortium. I am chair of the 4MOST Science Consortium Science Policy Board, which oversees membership and publication policies for this ~300 person survey. The aim of TIDES is to use the multiplex capabilities of 4MOST to trigger rapid follow-up of interesting transient events, combined with static host galaxy studies for Type Ia supernova cosmology.
My ADS publication list can be found here.
Dr. Mark Magee (Post-doctoral Research Fellow)
Dr. Simon Prentice (Post-doctoral Research Fellow)
Mr. Peter Clark (PhD student since October 2016)
Ms. Kelly Skillen (PhD student since October 2018)
In 2018/2019, I will again be teaching PHY4006 'High-Energy Astrophysics'. See course pages on Queen's Online.