Physics

star Results

96% of the University of Portsmouth’s physics research outputs have been judged world-leading or internationally excellent in the national Research Excellence Framework 2014. Portsmouth is one of the top three universities nationally for the proportion of such high quality physics outputs.

Overall 89% of Portsmouth physics research outputs, impact and environment was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent.

Portsmouth’s overall research grade point average makes it the top ranked Alliance university and the top ranked new university in physics, on a par with many Russell group universities.

The REF2014 submission included research from 17 scientists, including 7 early career researchers, in the Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG). ICG was set up in 2002 and has established an international reputation for research in cosmology and astrophysics, playing a leading role in several major astronomical surveys, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Dark Energy Survey.

This is Portsmouth’s first submission to the Physics sub-panel. In the last national research assessment exercise (RAE2008), research from ICG was submitted to the Applied Mathematics panel, alongside work from the University’s Department of Mathematics.

Portsmouth is a member of the South-East Physics Network (SEPnet) and now runs undergraduate courses in Applied Physics and is starting a new degree in Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology in 2015.

  • 89% of Portsmouth physics research outputs, environment and impact were judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • 96% of research outputs world-leading or internationally excellent
  • 90% of research environment internationally excellent
  • top rated new university for physics research
  • top rated Alliance Group university for physics research

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star Research Groups/Research Themes

The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) is a research institute of almost 50 researchers (including academic staff, graduate students, postdoctoral and visiting researchers) addressing fundamental questions in cosmology and astrophysics.

Developing a coherent and collaborative research effort, focussed on the interface between astrophysical theory and observations

We bring together experts in theoretical cosmology, observational cosmology and galaxy evolution in order to address some of the biggest questions in science today, and fully exploit the latest observational programmes. These science goals are closely aligned with Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Science Challenges: How did the universe begin and how is it evolving? What are the fundamental constituents of and fabric of the universe and how do they interact?

Research in theoretical cosmology develops models of the Universe based on Einstein’s general relativity and generalisations motivated by developments in fundamental physics. Future observations require more sophisticated theoretical models, going beyond standard Newtonian and linear treatments to develop more realistic relativistic and non-linear models. Highlight results include predictions of primordial non-Gaussianity from inflation in the very early universe (Koyama, Tasinato and Wands), relativistic effects in large-scale structure (Bacon, Bruni and Maartens), numerical N-body simulations in modified gravity (Koyama and Zhao), and a second-order Einstein-Boltzmann code (Crittenden, Koyama and Wands). Strategic university investment has been used to purchase a local supercomputer, SCIAMA, for both numerical simulations and large data processing tasks.

Observational cosmology and galaxy evolution uses massive surveys of the astronomical sky to determine the content and structure of the universe and how it evolves. Highlight results include state-of-the-art measurements of the integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect (Crittenden and Nichol), the imprint of baryon acoustic oscillations in the large-scale galaxy distribution (Percival, Pieri and Ross), understanding galaxy morphology and formation histories (Maraston, Masters, Nichol, Thomas, Tojeiro) and the development of new stellar population models, obtaining the best determined mass function of the most massive galaxies in the Universe (Maraston and Thomas).

Establishing leading roles in international collaborations

The ICG has made strategic investments to secure major roles in surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and the Dark Energy Survey (DES), often using early involvement, committing relatively modest sums. This is now paying dividends in terms of leading roles in these collaborations coming to fruition over next few years. For example, ICG has more leadership roles in DES than any other institution (coordinating Large-Scale Structure, Galaxy Evolution and Supernovae working groups). This will remain our focus through involvement in future surveys including SDSS-IV, the European Space Agency (ESA) Euclid satellite and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Expanding the impact of ICG research in national and international agencies

ICG staff serve on numerous panels and committees including NASA/ESA science teams, steering groups for large collaborations (including SDSS and DES) and research council advisory, grant and fellowship panels. Portsmouth is a member of SEPnet (South-East Physics network), which develops regional collaborations, through joint supervision of research students, workshops and meetings, drawing on the breadth of expertise, best-practice and resources. ICG was instrumental in establishing the SEPnet-astro research theme, developing international expertise in the region for the next generation of radio astronomy surveys, including construction of the LOFAR-UK station at Chilbolton. Nichol (2008-09) was the first theme chair of SEPnet-astro (now Bacon, since 2009).

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star Impact Case Studies

Impact of Baryon Acoustic Oscillations research on the European Space Agency Euclid Mission

Euclid is a new M-class satellite selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to study the dark universe, which will exploit fundamental “Baryon Acoustic Oscillations” research originally performed at Portsmouth. The construction of Euclid is underway, overseen by Portsmouth scientists, with several millions of pounds already spent on research and development within UK university laboratories and industry (e2v), already with economic impact. By the time Euclid is launched, 606 million euros will be spent across UK and European industry (Thales, Astrium) providing significant economic impact as well as societal impact.

Euclid

Impact of Galaxy Zoo and the Zooniverse on Public Engagement with Scientific Research

Galaxy Zoo (GZ) is among the most successful online citizen science project ever undertaken, relying on hundreds of thousands of volunteers to classify galaxy images. Since 2007, GZ has evolved into a “Zooniverse” of over 20 online projects, engaging nearly a million worldwide volunteers (from a range of ages, backgrounds and education) in scientific research. Most GZ volunteers report being motivated by a desire to contribute to real research, while 87% say their experience has changed their behaviour e.g. more museum visits (34%). For under-18s, 70% were encouraged to study a degree and 47% said GZ helped their schoolwork.

Galaxy Zoo

High Impact Public Engagement in Cosmology

The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) runs a successful programme of community engagements with local schools, science centres and tourist attractions to influence public awareness and understanding of the world-class research we perform. In 2012-13, ICG engaged with 4858 people, including 2412 school children. Through our “Cosmology Masterclass”, we have inspired hundreds of A-level students from across the region; 60% said we had increased their interest in university. In 2012-13, staff engaged with 50 different schools across the UK. For the last 3 years, we have interacted with thousands of people running BBC Stargazing Live partner events, receiving almost unanimous praise from the public via our feedback.

Public Engagement

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star Funded Projects

The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation saw strong growth in external grant income between 2008 and 2013. The Institute's average annual external research income was £1.67M, more than three times the level reported in the RAE2008. Funding for core research projects, previously held as several STFC standard grants and since 2008 as two rolling grants, has since 2013 been merged into a single consolidated grant. The Institute's EU research income since 2008 totals over £2M, and includes Marie Curie awards and three major European Research Council (ERC) grants. The Institute recently won its first major EPSRC grant in collaboration with the University’s Business School.

Since 2007, the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation has been awarded over £1.1M from university strategic infrastructure funding. Major investments include membership of Dark Energy Survey since 2008, membership of Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and full institutional membership of SDSS-III since 2011. Currently the University of Portsmouth and the University of Cambridge are the only UK full institutional members of SDSS-III. The University of Portsmouth became an SDSS-IV member in July 2013, and is currently the only UK full member. The SCIAMA supercomputer (1008 core cluster) was commissioned in 2010, and SEPnet funding provided dedicated technical support to run the machine and make it accessible and easy to use, supporting researchers develop and optimise codes, maximising the scientific output. £53k from university funds has been contributed to support use of the COSMOS National Cosmology Supercomputer at the University of Cambridge.

Since RAE2008, external grants awarded to the Institute include:

  • STFC rolling grants in Theoretical Cosmology (2007-12 £1,423k, 2010-15 £1,432k)
  • STFC rolling grants in Survey Cosmology and Astrophysics (2008-13 £1,112k, 2011-15 £982k)
  • STFC consolidated grant in Cosmology and Astrophysics (2013-16, £1,379k)
  • STFC grants Euclid Definition Phase and B1 Phase (Percival, £42k 2010-11, £9k 2011),
  • BigBOSS UK development (Percival, 2011-13, £15k)
  • DESspec: Spectroscopic upgrade to Dark Energy Survey (Nichol, 2012-14, £21k)
  • Cosmological perturbations: very early universe (Nichol, 2013-15, £256k)
  • UKSA grant Euclid Implementation Phase (Percival, 2012-15, £319k)
  • Gemini WFMOS Concept Design Study (Nichol, 2008, $178k)
  • STFC Advanced Fellowships (Bacon 2004-09, Percival 2005-10, Tasinato 2010-15)
  • STFC Postdoctoral Fellowships (Koyama 2005-08, Martinez-Sansigre 2010-12)
  • 4 STFC Doctoral Training Grants (2008-17, £1.1M)
  • EPSRC grant investigating online volunteering (with Portsmouth Business School, co-I Masters, awarded 2013, collaboration with Oxford, Manchester and Leeds, £750k)
  • Leverhulme Trust Prize Fellowships (Percival 2008-11, Koyama 2010-13), Early Career Fellowship (Masters 2010-12) and Visiting Professorship (Bershady, 2013-14)
  • EU Marie Curie Excellence team grant (Maraston 2007-11 €1.4M)
  • EU Marie Curie Fellowships (Papazoglou, Pieri, Shankaranarayanan, Vandersloo
  • Royal Society Travel Grants (Crittenden, Maartens, Thomas) and Incoming Short Visit (Wands)
  • 2 Royal Astronomical Society Travel Grants (Masters, Melvin, 2012-13)
  • IAU Symposium 295, “The intriguing life of massive galaxies”, Beijing (Thomas, 2012)
  • ERC Starting Grants (Koyama 2008-13 €500k, Percival 2008-13 €880k)
  • ERC Consolidator Grant (Percival 2014-19, €2.15M)

Time awarded on national and international facilities not supported by UK research councils includes the following projects and commitments:

  • Portsmouth is a member of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration, awarded 525 nights on Blanco 4m telescope (2012-2018) by NOAO time allocation panel, and 100 nights on Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) for DES follow-up spectroscopy (2013-2018)
  • Nichol is the Primary Investigator on the BOSS ancilliary programme, and was awarded 4000 fiber-hours on SDSS-III telescope by SDSS expert panel (2009)
  • Nichol, Percival and Tojeiro are members of the VIMOS Public Extragalactic Redshift Survey (VIPERS) project awarded 372 hours on ESO Very Large Telescope
  • Maraston, Nichol and Thomas are co-Investigators on the Galactic Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, and were awarded 188 nights on the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) (2008-13) by the AAT international time allocation committee
  • Maraston and Thomas are co-Investigators on the proposal “Is the IMF of massive ellipticals really bottom heavy?”, and were awarded 15hrs on FLAMES/VLT (2012) by the Observing Panel Committee
  • Maraston was co-Investigator of a Cycle20 proposal HST GO-12979.04 “The Stellar Population Around the Intermediate-mass Black Hole ESO 243-49 HLX-1”, and was awarded 10 orbits, Hubble Space Telescope (HST) telescope allocation committee (2012-13)
  • Maraston is co-Investigator on the RESOLVE project, and was awarded 20 nights on the Southern Astrophysics Research (SOAR) Telescope
  • Percival is part of DES/LSS project (with UCL) and was awarded 4million CPU hours on Dirac supercomputer as part of COSMOS proposal (Principle Investigator: Shellard, University og Cambridge)
  • Maraston is a core member of the SERVS survey, and was awarded 1400hrs on Spitzer Space Telescope/IRAC (2008), 21hrs on CFHT/WHIRCAM (2010A), 7 nights on CTIO/Mosaic (2009B, 2010B), 4 nights on Subaru/SuprimeCAM (2009B), 77hrs on NRAO Very Large Array (2013), and 11.7hrs on Gemini/GSAOI (2013B)
  • Masters is the project scientist for the Galaxy Zoo and co-Investigator on many related telescope proposals, including 84 hrs as PI on NRAO Very Large Array (2013B)
  • Masters is the founder of the 2MASS Tulley-Fisher (2MTF) collaboration, and was awarded 96 hours as Principle Investigator on NRAO Green Bank Telescope (2008B), and 152 hrs as co-Investigator on Parkes Radio Telescope (2008, 2011 and 2012)
  • Masters is a team member of the Spitzer Survey of Stellar Structure in Galaxies, and was awarded 637hrs as the co-Investigator (March 2008, Cycle-6 exploration science review panel and TAC)

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star Infrastructure and Facilities

ICG has been awarded over £1.1M from university strategic infrastructure funding since 2007. Major investments include membership of Dark Energy Survey since 2008, membership of Sloan Digital Sky Survey and full institutional membership of SDSS-III since 2011 (Portsmouth and Cambridge are the only UK full institutional members) and SDSS-IV since July 2013 (Portsmouth is the only UK full member). See section (e) for leading roles in the collaboration this has supported. The SCIAMA supercomputer (1008 core cluster) was commissioned in 2010. SEPnet funding provided dedicated technical support to run the machine and make it accessible and easy to use, supporting researchers develop and optimise codes, maximising the scientific output. £53k from university funds was contributed to support use of the COSMOS National Cosmology Supercomputer at the University of Cambridge.

Time awarded on national and international facilities not supported by UK research councils:

  • Portsmouth is a member of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration, awarded 525 nights on Blanco 4m telescope (2012-2018) by NOAO time allocation panel, and 100 nights on Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) for DES follow-up spectroscopy (2013-2018)
  • Nichol is PI on the BOSS ancilliary programme awarded 4000 fiber-hours on SDSS-III telescope by SDSS expert panel (2009)
  • Nichol, Percival and Tojeiro are members of the VIMOS Public Extragalactic Redshift Survey (VIPERS) project awarded 372 hours on ESO Very Large Telescope
  • Maraston, Nichol and Thomas are co-I’s on the Galactic Mass Assembly (GAMA) project awarded 188 nights on the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) (2008-13) awarded by the AAT international time allocation committee
  • Maraston and Thomas are co-I’s on the proposal “Is the IMF of massive ellipticals really bottom heavy?”, awarded 15hrs on FLAMES/VLT (2012) by the Observing Panel Committee
  • Maraston was co-I of a Cycle20 proposal HST GO-12979.04 “The Stellar Population Around the Intermediate-mass Black Hole ESO 243-49 HLX-1”, awarded 10 orbits, Hubble Space Telescope (HST) telescope allocation committee (2012-13)
  • Maraston is co-I on RESOLVE project awarded 20 nights on Southern Astrophysics Research (SOAR) Telescope
  • Percival is part of DES/LSS project (with UCL) awarded 4million CPU hours on Dirac supercomputer as part of COSMOS proposal (PI: Shellard, Cambridge)
  • Maraston is a core member of the SERVS survey awarded 1400hrs on Spitzer Space Telescope/IRAC (2008), 21hrs on CFHT/WHIRCAM (2010A), 7 nights on CTIO/Mosaic (2009B, 2010B), 4 nights on Subaru/SuprimeCAM (2009B), 77hrs on NRAO Very Large Array (2013), 11.7hrs on Gemini/GSAOI (2013B)
  • Masters is project scientist for Galaxy Zoo and co-I on many related telescope proposals including 84 hrs as PI on NRAO Very Large Array (2013B)
  • Masters is founder of 2MASS Tulley-Fisher (2MTF) collaboration, awarded 96 hrs as PI on NRAO Green Bank Telescope (2008B), 152 hrs as co-I on Parkes Radio Telescope (2008, 2011 and 2012)
  • Masters is team member of Spitzer Survey of Stellar Structure in Galaxies (S4G), awarded 637hrs as co-I (March 2008, Cycle-6 exploration science review panel and TAC)

All ICG staff and students enjoy an excellent working environment within our purpose-built new Dennis Sciama Building, costing approx. £4million, opened in 2009. All academic staff and senior research fellows have individual offices. Postdocs share with one or two others or visitors, while PhD students are in larger shared offices. We have a seminar room for video-conferencing funded by SEPnet for graduate lectures, seminars and collaboration meetings. We have spent university investment funding on departmental computing and IT resources to ensure a high standard of computing equipment for all ICG researchers. SEPnet publishes an online list of infrastructure and equipment available to all partners.

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