CAPS Members Research Interests

Michael Smith explores the origins and environments of stars, planets and galaxies. With the development of infrared and millimetre astronomy, we are now able survey the regions where stars are born and penetrate into the depths where the collapse occurs. Smith constructs models and computer simulations to investigate the violent nature of star formation and the spectacular manifestations that result. It is evident, however, that star formation presents us with the ultimate of Complex Systems. His goal is to face the fundamental issues and unravel a model to unify the conception, birth and early evolution of stars. He focuses on the 'multi-physics, multi-scale' problem: physics, chemistry and dynamics on equal terms, operating and interacting over wide ranges of scale.
Michael Smith is also exploring the morphology of radio galaxies through computer simulations. Radio galaxies and quasars result when supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies become active. This involves the accumulation of matter and the extraction of the spin energy. The resulting jets may regulate galaxy formation and influence the evolution of the surrounding cluster.
Michael Smith is developing a computer model to simulate the development of Planetary Nebulae. These nebulae form only after the star has used up its main fuel supply and starts to blow winds and hurtle shells of dusty gas into the environment. The code follows the shell structure as winds from various stages interact. The gas chemistry and cooling is crucial to follow, with predictions for images and spectroscopy directly comparable to those being generated by telescopes such as the Very Large Telescope.
Mark Burchell's Impact laboratory contains a Light Gas Gun (LGG) that is able to accelerate particles to velocities of up to 7 kilometers per second. The LGG is used to investigate hypervelocity impact cratering in metals, rocks and ices, and to explore the capture of particles in aerogel. The impact work is being extended to physical examples (non-water and low temp ices), and in the area of astrobiology, to test survivability of bacteria in hypervelocity impacts (necessary for natural distribution of life through space - sometimes known as Panspermia), and to identify minerals captured in aerogel for future sample return missions from space.
Dirk Froebrich's research is focused on the earliest stages of star and star cluster formation. He focuses on the detailed statistical comparison of model predictions with observational data in order to find out how well current models are able to explain the observational evidence.
Extensive studies have been done to build up the largest known sample of very young protostars and to compare their fundamental properties (temperature, mass, luminosity) to current models of star formation. Currently he collaborates with the JETSET consortium in an extensive observational work to determine the properties of jets and outflows of the entire source sample. These properties are essential to understand the feedback of forming stars on their environment.
The investigation of the distribution of gas and dust clouds and their properties is a vital ingredient to understand the formation of stars. Large scale extinction mapping is hence undertaken to determine the distribution of dust clouds in the entire Galactic Plane. Such projects become increasingly achievable due to the availability of all sky near infrared surveys, large computer clusters and Grid technology.
A spin-off project of this work allowed us to search for known and new unknown star clusters in the entire Galactic Plane. Such searches are vital to understand the formation and evolution of stellar clusters. Our search lead to the discovery of about 500, so far unknown star clusters in our Galaxy. We are now in the process to classify these objects. Several of these could be identified as new globular clusters in the Galaxy.
Stephen Lowry Dr. Lowry’s area of research is optical and infrared astronomical observations of all populations of Small Solar System Bodies (SSSBs), with particularly emphasis on comets and Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs). His research programme involves the use of some large ground-based telescope facilities, as well as space-based telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Infrared Telescope. This field is of particular importance as these bodies are the only surviving remnants of the formation era of our Solar System, and several high-profile space missions have been launched to these bodies to help answer fundamental questions regarding their nature. Some examples of on-going research programmes include: 1. European Southern Observatory Large Programme: Direct Observational Detections of the Asteroidal YORP Effect - The YORP effect is a torque due to both incident solar radiation pressure and the recoil effect from the anisotropic emission of thermal photons on small bodies in the solar system, which can modify their rotation rates and spin-axes orientations. YORP can explain many observed phenomena in asteroidal science, and is a major driver of their physical evolution and thus a major new area in observational asteroid science (see Lowry et al., 2007, Science 316: Taylor et al., 2007, Science 316). Dr Lowry is Principal Investigator on a new Large Programme at the European Southern Observatory to continue this project on a wide sample of Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs). 2. Spitzer Thermal-Infrared and Ground-based Optical Observations of Cometary and Asteroidal Bodies – this programme is to measure the thermal and optical flux of many cometary nuclei to constrain the overall size, shape, spin-rate, colour, density and albedo distributions. These will be compared with other minor body populations such as Near-Earth Asteroids, Centaurs, and Trans-Neptunian Objects/Kuiper-Belt Objects (progenitors of JFCs) to investigate cometary evolutionary processes. 3. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta OSIRIS Project - the international Rosetta mission was is a Cornerstone Mission in ESA’s Horizons 2000 Science Programme. Its final destination is comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After entering orbit around the comet in 2014, the spacecraft will release the small lander Philae onto the icy nucleus, then spend the next two years orbiting the comet to study the evolution of its surface as it approaches the Sun. Dr. Lowry is associated with the optical camera OSIRIS on-board Rosetta, and provides support to the mission by obtaining pre-encounter characterization of the Rosetta targets.
Jingqi Miao leads a project to develop numerical simulations of collapsing interstellar clouds, collaborating with scientists in Sweden, Holland, the US and Japan. She has developed Monte Carlo modelling techniques to study the impact rates of dust particles on the surfaces of spacecraft in Earth orbit, and is now developing a time-dependant chemical model to study the effects of the external radiation field and self-gravitational collapse in Cometary Globules and bright rim nebulae. This model, which includes full 3D time evolving collapse dynamics, will be used to study the role of shock induction on the collapse of globules and molecular cores, and to exploit recent high-resolution optical echelle, SCUBA and molecular line data.
Mark Price's primary research interest is on hydrocode modelling and experiments in hypervelocity impact phenomena. These include:
  • Hydrocode modelling of impacts into metals, ice(s) and aerogel.
  • Validation of hydrocodes from experimental impact shots.
  • Shock synthesis of organics from simple ice mixtures.
  • The effects of porosity on crater morphology.
  • Incorporation of realistic phase changes within hydrocdoes an (solid - liguid - gas) to better represent the fate of a projectile.
additional projects include:
  • Using fluid dynamic hydrocode to model fluvial flows under Martian conditions.
  • Explicit dynamics simulations of porous impacts at low velocity to model dust agglomeration mechanisms.
  • Administration of the group's Silicon Graphics linux cluster and PC infrastructure.
James Urquhart's primary research interest is in the area of massive star formation, which is an area that underpins many fields of astrophysics and provides an opportunity to link star formation with large scale structure of the Milky Way and obtain a better understanding of star formation in nearby galaxies. Other areas of interest include: investigating the modes and efficiency of triggered star formation; the evolution of the earliest stages of the most massive stars and their Galactic distribution; Galactic structure and the influence of the spiral arms in star formation; using rotational transitions of simple molecules to probe the structure of the interstellar medium; and star formation in extreme environments (high pressures and densities, strong UV radiation and cosmic ray fields) such as the Galactic centre and starburst galaxies.  
Jon Hillier is a Marie Curie Intra European Research Fellow, investigating the synthesis and use of cosmic dust analogues. Specifically his research involves the synthesis, characterisation and testing of sub-micron and micron-sized liquid-filled mineral and/or polymer particles, for use in the Impact Group's Light Gas Gun and electrostatic dust accelerators in Germany (Universität Stuttgart) and the USA (University of Colorado at Boulder). These particles are designed to be analogues of volatile-rich icy grains emitted from the surfaces and interiors of icy satellites such as Europa and Enceladus, as well as during cometary activity.
The research is a collaboration between the Universities of Kent, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Sheffield.