I am a Royal Society University Research Fellow who works on various theoretical and observational aspects of planet formation and the end results – planets and debris disks – as seen around nearby stars.
Among other topics, I have recently worked on transiting dust populations, what debris disks may tell us about the alignment of orbits in stellar and planetary systems, and the possible impact of exo-Zodiacal dust on future missions to image Earth-like planets around other stars. See my other website for more details.
I am involved in many collaborations, including ongoing surveys such as LBTI HOSTS and NaCo ISPY.
I have funding for a PhD studentship starting ~Oct 2021. I like to allow for student interest and expertise where possible, so I've given two possible project topics below.
This funding will not cover international students, but I am open to considering candidates to put forward for scholarships (e.g Chancellor's). However, I can only put forward one prospective student per scholarship.
One possible project is to search for and characterise transiting exocomets in Kepler, K2, TESS, and HARPS data (e.g. see these papers). Exocomets are analogous to comets in the Solar system, but being small can only be detected around other stars in fairly specific circumstances, which here means when their large comae transit the host star (i.e. we don't detect the nucleus itself). The transits are regularly seen spectroscopically by calcium absorption for the star beta Pictoris, but there are few convincing detections for other stars. One specific study would be to mine the vast archive of HARPS spectra to search for other stars showing the same phenomenon, and to quantify the frequency of exocometary transits. The transits are also seen photometrically for a few stars with space telescopes like Kepler and TESS, and in particular a systematic search of the TESS data should reveal many more.
A more loosely defined project is to mine the vast archive of the last three decades of space-based IR data. These data have yet to be systematically mined to their full capability, with most publications focussing on particular observing programmes rather than the overall dataset. For example, the far-IR Herschel space telescope imaged many disks, and those that are spatially resolved are useful for many studies (e.g. dust properties, comparison with ALMA imaging), but many remain unpublished. Similarly, the Spitzer space telescopes IR spectrograph is perfectly suited to detecting dust in the habitable zones of other stars, but no systematic study has been done that quantifies how common this dust is. All of this information can also be used to ask statistical questions, e.g. are stellar or planetary companions correlated with debris disks, e.g. as in these papers.
I am always happy to support fellowship applications, such as those offered by the Royal Society (Newton), and the Royal Astronomical Society, and our own Warwick Chancellor's International Scholarship.