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Abbigail Elms

I am completing a PhD in the Astronomy & Astrophysics group at the University of Warwick. My supervisor is Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay. My research focuses on studying white dwarfs within the Milky Way galaxy. I began my PhD in October 2021.


Using photometric data from Gaia and Pan-STARRS and spectroscopic data from the X-shooter instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT), I am utilising the local population of white dwarfs to calibrate stellar ages in our galactic neighbourhood.

Specifically, I use advanced white dwarf model atmosphere codes to determine the atmospheric parameters and chemical composition of metal polluted ultra-cool white dwarfs. Very cool white dwarfs tend to be stellar remnants of some of the oldest stars in the Milky Way, so the ones polluted by metals allow us to investigate the remains of their old orbiting planetary systems.

We have recently discovered two ultra-cool metal-polluted white dwarfs [Artist's impression credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick]. One white dwarf is unusually blue and was likely polluted by planetary debris of a similar composition to the Earth’s continental crust. The other white dwarf is very red, faint and is the oldest metal-polluted white dwarf in our Galaxy known to date, as it formed over 10 billion years ago. Artist’s impression of the old white dwarfs WDJ2147-4035 and WDJ1922+0233 surrounded by orbiting planetary debris, which will accrete onto the stars and pollute their atmospheres. WDJ2147-4035 is extremely red and dim, while WDJ1922+0233 is unusually blue. Credit: University of Warwick/Mark GarlickThe accretion of debris from orbiting planetesimals offers an exciting opportunity to research old planetary systems in our Galaxy, as this provides information on the formation and evolution of stars, planets and moons in the Milky Way. Various press releases covered this work, including from the University of WarwickLink opens in a new window and dozens of national and international news outlets.


First author papers:

1) Elms, A. K., et al. 2022, MNRAS, 517, 4557

Spectral analysis of ultra-cool white dwarfs polluted by planetary debrisLink opens in a new window

2) Elms, A. K., et al. 2023, MNRAS, 524, 4996

An emerging and enigmatic spectral class of isolated DAe white dwarfsLink opens in a new window

Co-author papers:

Collaboration Visits

Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI); Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, US; November 2023

  • Talk: A network of cool white dwarfs as standards for flux calibration

Harvard Center for Astrophysics; Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Boston, Massachusetts, US; November 2023

  • Talk: Overview of my PhD research (Professor David Charbonneau weekly group meeting)


Rocky Worlds III; ETH Zurich, Switzerland; January 2024

  • Poster: Spectral analysis of ultra-cool white dwarfs polluted by planetary debris

Exoplanet Systems and Stellar Life Cycles: Late-stage and Post-MS Systems; Aspen Center for Physics, Colorado; March 2023

  • Poster: Spectral analysis of ultra-cool white dwarfs polluted by planetary debris

Naples Stellar Evolution along HRD with Gaia; INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy; September 2022; participant

EUROWD22: 22nd European Workshop on White Dwarfs; University of Tübingen, Germany; August 2022

  • Talk: Spectral analysis of ultra-cool white dwarfs polluted by planetary debris

The National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) 2022; University of Warwick, UK; July 2022

  • Talk: Spectral analysis of ultra-cool white dwarfs polluted by planetary debris


Sheffield Gaia DR3 Workshop; University of Sheffield, UK; April 2022

Summer Schools

Summer School in Astrostatistics and Astroinformatics; The Pennsylvania State University, USA; June 2022 (two weeks); virtual

STFC Introductory Summer School in Astronomy 2021; University of Hull, UK; September 2021 (one week)

Outreach Talk

Clubhouse - Science Society; New York University, USA; November 2022; virtual

  • Talk: White dwarfs and their evolved planetary systems


Five nights; Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, La Palma; Sept-Aug 2023; in-person

Other Research Interests

I am also interested in galaxies, black holes and general relativity. For my master's research project, I identified all dwarf galaxies in SDSS MaNGA data and determined which of them likely host an active galactic nucleus (AGN). Then, I discovered each dwarf galaxy's local environment to see if there is a correlation between this and hosting an AGN.


For the academic years 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24, I was employed as a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant and fulfilled the role of laboratory demonstrator for the first-year undergraduate physics module PX152 Physics Laboratory. Responsibilities involved: guiding students through dozens of different laboratory experiments and practicals; helping everyone to understand the physics and maths problem questions that must be answered to complete the lab; ensuring everyone in my group were following the correct safety procedures; and marking the student's laboratory books at the end of the session, then providing verbal feedback on how they performed during the experiment.

For the academic years 2021/22 and 2022/23, I was also employed as an Exam Invigilator for the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick.

I worked as a secondary school Teach Physics intern for the Ogden Trust in the summers of 2019 and 2021.

Outreach and Other Interests

During my four years at the University of Portsmouth, I was part of the Physics Society and was President in my second year (2018/19) which I used to promote diversity and inclusivity in physics. I was also an Outreach Demonstrator for the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, where I regularly performed physics experiments and fun STEM activities to primary and secondary school students to generate enthusiasm for science.

In addition to my interest in physics, I have played competitive netball for 16 years at club, university and county level.

Write to:

Abbigail Elms,

Department of Physics,

University of Warwick,

Coventry CV4 7AL


Contact details:

E-mail: Abbigail.Elms[at]

Office: A1.24 (Millburn House)