Image of galaxy

Exploring the makeup of the universe

Our research covers galaxies and stars, large-scale structures, gravitational waves and dark energy

The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) is an international centre of research excellence in cosmology, gravitation and astrophysics.

Our Cosmology and Astrophysics research investigates the evolution of galaxies and their stars, the early universe and large-scale structure in the cosmos, as well as the energy content of the Universe and the nature of gravity. Through the work of the institute, we seek to understand the physics of the Universe and inspire the next generation of scientist through education, training and outreach. We also innovate using our advanced skills in mathematics and data science. 100% of ICG research was judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent in the REF2021 Research Excellence Framework.

Scientists at the ICG play leading roles in major ongoing international collaborations and projects, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the European Space Agency Euclid satellite, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). Follow the links below for more details about these and many other projects that we are involved in at the ICG. 

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    Cosmology and Astrophysics research

    Research at the Institute covers theoretical and observational cosmology and astrophysics, and their interface, and is supported by Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Royal Society, European Research Council (ERC) and European Union (EU) funding.

    Within the 4 areas of expertise below, our work covers topics including the very early universe, dark energy, testing gravity on cosmological scales, large scale structure, gravitational lensing. supernovae, galaxy evolution, and stellar population modelling.


    We're working to better understand the basic building blocks of our Universe, the origin of stars, the formation and evolution of galaxies, and stellar population models. Explore our astrophysics research

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    Observational Cosmology

    We're studying supernovae and the appearance of distance between Earth and galaxies, and measuring the positions of large-scale structures in the Universe.

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    Theoretical cosmology

    We're exploring the inflation of the very early Universe, the impact of dark energy on its geometry and developing tests to monitor its expansion.

    Image of galaxy
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    Gravitational waves

    We're detecting cosmic gravitational waves and developing gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool.

    Illustration of 2 merging black holes and the gravitational waves that ripple outward
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    ICG projects

    • Tactile Universe

      We're creating 3D printed, tactile images of galaxies to engage persons with vision impairments or low vision with our astrophysics research.

    • The Nature of Supernovae

      Research that seeks to learn which types of stars die as supernova explosions and how those explosions occur.

    Outreach and public engagement activities

    We're committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists through our programme of outreach and public engagement, working with local schools and online communities through citizen science projects.  

    Innovation at the ICG

    Researchers at the ICG are problem solvers, gaining an understanding of the science of the Universe through the analysis of large datasets. The algorithms developed in cosmology research can be applied in other sectors to provide powerful insights from data. We are well versed in providing clear presentations from data with exciting visualisations.

    Using our state-of-the-art supercomputer, SCIAMA, we are able to use advanced statistics and machine learning to identify correlations and anomalies in data sets.
    Expertise developed in ICG research in cosmology is being used to address real-world problems.  We have worked with cardiology clinicians at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to develop a web based tool which guides treatment following cardiac arrest.  We are working with clinicians at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust on a project to study the development of moles on the skin, using techniques developed for analysis of changes in the appearance of supernovae.

    The ICG is also working with geoscientists at the University of Portsmouth to map landslides on a global scale, using our experience with maps of the cosmos.  This work will be of practical use to the insurance industry and those considering large infrastructure projects in developing countries. The ICG has also played a significant role in COVID-19 related projects: using satellite images to evaluate social distancing, using image analysis to measure the spread of cough droplets and analysing the University of Portsmouth’s in-house asymptomatic COVID testing results.

    Moving forward we are investigating opportunities to apply image analysis tools within the space sector. The ICG hosts an annual data dive event, where postgraduate physics students from across the South-East are able to investigate data intensive problems.  Last year’s event investigated cardiology data with our colleagues from King’s College Hospital.


      Our world-leading scientists teach on our undergraduate and postgraduate maths and physics degree courses.

      Undergraduate study

      The University offers a range of undergraduate courses in mathematics and physics, including:

      Postgraduate study

      We also offer PhDs at the ICG – visit our Cosmology and Gravitation postgraduate research page for details of our current pre-approved funded and self-funded PhDs, and to find out more about our PhD studentships.

      We welcome applications from all qualified applicants, but applications are particularly encouraged from traditionally under-represented groups in science. The University of Portsmouth holds an Athena SWAN bronze award and is an Institute of Physics Project Juno Supporter; these projects show a commitment to introduce organisational and cultural practices that promote gender equality in science and create a better working environment for men and women.

      Our culture

      Athena SWAN at the ICG

      The Athena SWAN Charter was established by the Equality Challenge Unit to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research.

      The University of Portsmouth has been awarded Athena SWAN Bronze as a Higher Education Institution, and the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation has been awarded an Athena SWAN Bronze award, in recognition of the good employment practice in place within the department.

      Dignity and Respect in the ICG

      We believe everyone has the right to work and study with dignity and respect, free from harassment and bullying. We're committed to widening participation in higher education, whether you are an undergraduate student, postgraduate student, postdoctoral researcher or staff member. It's essential we understand and accommodate everyone’s individual needs for our continued success.

      Within the ICG, Laura Nuttall is our Dignity and Respect Champion – for more information on the work we're doing, email

      Outreach and public engagement activities

      We're committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists through our programme of outreach and public engagement, working with local schools and online communities through citizen science projects.

      Isaac Physics

      In 2016 – 2018, the ICG hosted an Isaac Physics Fellow (Dr Nic Bonne) who ran physics problem solving sessions for students and CPD sessions for teachers. While the Isaac Physics Fellow scheme is no longer running you can still access the free online resources that Isaac Physics offer.

      Cosmic Stroll

      See the official Cosmic Stroll website for the app that allows you to take a virtual reality stroll through the cosmos.

      Galaxy Zoo

      Here is a custom version of Galaxy Zoo for Year 5 designed specifically for outreach sessions as part of our “A Visit from Space” offering to Primary Schools. Please note that clicks collected on that site are not used for research.

      To contribute to research you need to visit the real version of Galaxy Zoo.


      Build your own Universe

      The ‘Build your own Universe’ kit was provided by SEPnet and developed at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Alternatively you can download the instruction booklet from the link below.

      ‘Build your own Universe’ instruction booklet (pdf) 


      You may have looked through a CD spectroscope at one of our public events and seen how sources of light split up into different colours. It is easy to make your own spectroscope at home using a CD and a cardboard container, the ones that we have on our stands tend to be made using cereal boxes or kitchen roll tubes.

      There are lots of websites with instructions for making a CD spectroscope. This video from Dr Andrew Steele shows you how to make a CD spectroscope that is similar to the ones that we have on display and this website shows lots of examples of the different types of spectra that you can see by looking at different types of light. 

      In 2017, the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation introduced a new strategic schools outreach programme, focusing our schools outreach (key stage 2–4) on working with three partner secondary schools in Portsmouth and their feeder primary/junior schools. The idea behind this change is to provide a coherent programme of events and activities that school pupils will participate in throughout their school career, with the goal of moving away from one-off interactions to a sustained programme of repeat engagements with the same pupils.

      This unfortunately means that we have limited capacity to work with other schools. Events that are open to schools outside of the schools outreach programme will be advertised and booked through the University of Portsmouth Recruitment and Outreach Team. However, if you have any questions about the schools outreach programme, or the ICG’s outreach and public engagement strategy, then please contact the ICG Public Engagement and Outreach Manager, Dr Jen Gupta (

      ICG outreach activities are delivered both on campus at the university and on site at schools, by fully-trained members of the ICG and physics undergraduate students, and are free for the school. The ICG schools outreach programme is supported by the South East Physics Network (SEPnet) and The Ogden Trust.

      Physics outreach to key stage 5 students, including Physics Taster Days at the university and talks in colleges, is organised through the Faculty of Technology. For more information please contact the Faculty of Technology Outreach Coordinator, David Hill, on

      The ICG is home to the Tactile Universe, a project to open up topics in astrophysics to young people with vision impairments. We have created lesson plans and activities that use tactile images of galaxies and other astronomical objects, and trained people across the UK to use and deliver workshops using these resources. For more information, please visit the Tactile Universe website.

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      Contact us

      Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation
      Dennis Sciama Building
      Burnaby Road
      PO1 3FX

      Telephone: +44 (0)23 9284 5151

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