I am a second year PhD student in the Astronomy and Astrophysics group at the University of Warwick, supervised by Prof. Don Pollacco. My research is focussed on using data from the Gaia and TESS spacecraft along with terrestrial follow-up to discover and characterise transiting exoplanets around young stars. Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, I completed a 5-year BE(Hons)/BSc conjoint degree in Physics and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Auckland in 2017.
Despite the wealth of known exoplanets (over 4000 as of July 2019) there are still many unanswered questions about their formation history and early evolution, so young exoplanets offer a key window into this dynamic and changeable period of a planetary system's life. However, stars of these ages offer significant challenges for detection via either of the traditionally most powerful transit and radial velocity detection methods, since these young stars typically are rotating much faster and are considerably more active than the background stellar population. This leads to photometric light-curves dominated by stellar variability that can be on a similar timescale but considerably larger in amplitude than the signal of any exoplanet around that star (e.g. see the top of Figure 1 below), seriously hampering detection through the transit method.
I am currently developing tools to remove the stellar variability from these young stars (illustrated below in Figure 1) in order to discover new transiting exoplanets, and thus learn further about early planetary system evolution. My primary data source is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is currently undertaking a 2-year nearly all-sky mission to search for transiting exoplanets.
Figure 1: Example of developed light-curve detrending technique, showing the recovery of the newly discovered young exoplanet around DS Tuc A/HIP 116748 A (originally identified as TOI 200.01). Above: Overplotted detrending model over original TESS FFI light-curve. Below: Detrending light-curve phase folded by the known planetary period.
Teaching, Tutoring and Departmental Responsibilities
Alongside my research I currently work as a Lab Demonstrator in the second-year undergraduate Astronomy Labs at the University of Warwick, where I instruct students in topics relating to spectroscopy and practical astronomy.
I also hold or have held the following positions on the PGSSLC: Postgraduate Seminar Organiser (2019-2020), Astro Rep (2019-2020), International Rep (2018-2019).
During my undergraduate degree I also tutored Physics and Mathematics to school and early university-aged students both privately and for Ardent Education in Auckland, NZ.
- Annual Conference in Research in Natural Sciences - ACORNS, University of Warwick, 9 December 2019 - Invited Talk: "Fantastic Planets and how to find them".
- PLATO ESP 2019 - "Single, Shallow & Strange Transits", University of Warwick, 2nd-4th September 2019 - Poster ("Searching for Young Planets with TESS") and presenting summary of 'Strange transits' discussion.
- Stars and their Variability observed from space, University of Vienna, 19th-23rd August 2019
- UK Exoplanet Community Meeting, Imperial College London, 15-17 April 2019
Observing and Outreach
As part of my PhD I have also had the opportunity to complete a 7-night observing run on the SOPHIE instrument at Haute-Provence Observatory (OHP) in South-East France.
I also frequently volunteer with the Warwick Planetarium, visiting schools of typically years 2-3 or 4-6 to inspire them with talks about the search for extraterrestrial life and our place in the Universe.
I have completed five separate 3-month periods of work experience in university and industry environments in areas ranging from spacecraft design, testing and analysis (at NZ/US aerospace company Rocket Lab) to inductive charging technology for electric vehicles. My final year engineering project involved designing and testing a system to interface CubeSat satellites with the main Rocket Lab launch vehicle, which won the prize for the best final year project in mechanical engineering at the University of Auckland (2016). I still have a great interest in aerospace engineering, and in particular mechanical design of rockets and spacecraft payloads.
I also have been heavily involved in hiking clubs at both the University of Auckland (Safety Officer 2014; Club Captain 2015-2016; Vice-President 2017) and the University of Warwick (Treasurer 2019-2020). Consequently when not looking for planets, you can usually find me up a mountain somewhere hiking or trail running.