Tag Archives: Research

Back to work

I haven’t written anything on this blog for a few months. I would like to say that’s because I’ve been intensely busy with all kinds of work and life related things, which is kind of true. But mostly I haven’t had the motivation to write because I try to focus on my PhD work and that has been very frustrating recently.

In my last post I wrote about the relief of passing my “upgrade” panel, so I am now a fully registered PhD student (instead of officially an MPhil student). That was back in November last year. Immediately after that I finished off and sent out a draft paper to collaborators, just in time to get some feedback before Christmas.

Stupid idea. Continue reading

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Why is a PhD like a ‘rubber duck’?

A 3-D reconstruction of the Rosetta comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) in a 2003 model from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA and Philippe Lamy (Laboratoire d’Astronomie Spatiale)

A 3-D reconstruction of the Rosetta comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) in a 2003 model from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA and Philippe Lamy (Laboratoire d’Astronomie Spatiale)

On the left is an image reconstruction of our ‘best guess’ at what comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko looked like in 2003. This was created using images from the Hubble Space Telescope in preparation for ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft mission to travel there and take a closer look.

This closer look happened more than 10 years later, and just last week the Philae Lander was released and performed the very first soft landing ever on a comet. But even before this landing, we knew a lot more about comet 67P than we had in 2003. Images from Rosetta as it approached and began orbiting the comet showed us a completely unexpected shape, shown on the right, leading it to be nicknamed the ‘rubber duck’ comet.

The soft landing (or more strictly, bouncing) of Philae has been all over the news for the last week or so, but it was this article in Universe Today that drew my attention to the huge increase in knowledge about 67P over the last decade. We can easily get caught up in particular events and achievements but it isn’t often that we really sit back and appreciate how far we’ve come over a longer period of time. Continue reading

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Cloudy in Belfast?

Participants at the Cloudy Summer School 2014 (QUB). Photo credit: Paul Woods

Participants at the Cloudy Summer School 2014 (QUB). Left to right, Nicole Reindl, Anne Fox, Patricia Bessiere, Larissa Takeda, Catherine McEvoy, Kingsley Gale-Sides, Megan Whewell, Tek Prasad Adhikari, Helen Meskhidze, Mattia Bulla, Catia Silva, Matt Nicholl, Andri Prozesky, Ted of School, Gary Ferland, Janet Chen, Tommy Nelson, Jake Turner, Richard Tunnard, Brianna Smart, Tom Finzell, Ting-Wen Lan, Joe Polshaw Photo credit: Paul Woods

In August (18th-22nd) I attended a Summer School at Queen’s University Belfast. The week was based around learning how to use a computer programme called Cloudy, which is an atomic physics code that simulates the spectrum you should expect to observe from many astrophysical objects and scenarios. Continue reading

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Seeing Clearly

As a PhD student I spend a lot of time sitting in the office, and almost all of that involves looking at my laptop or computer monitor. Over the last year I have found it more and more difficult to spend full days at my desk without feeling muscles aches, tiredness or general restlessness. All this makes it harder to work consistently throughout the day.

From PhD Comics. Credit: Jorge Cham (Click on image to return to original webpage)

From PhD Comics. Credit: Jorge Cham (Click on image to return to original webpage)

In some ways I have a good situation here as the office I’m in has just been refurnished (with unwanted desks from another department), I have a reasonable size HD monitor to attach to my laptop which more than doubles the screen space, my laptop sits on a raised surface to keep it at eye level, I use a shelf above my desk to store textbooks, notes, papers to read and personal items and I own a reasonably decent office chair that reduces the strain on my back.

 Two weeks ago, on a whim, I made my first visit to the opticians for about 6 years.

Five days ago I picked up my first pair of glasses* Continue reading

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ISSI – Discussions, Presenting and Editing

The view from a bridge in Bern (May 2014)

The view from a bridge in Bern (May 2014)

In December, only two and a half months after I started my PhD, I wrote about a trip I was about to take to the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern, Switzerland.

When I got back I wanted to write about my experiences there, but it was on that trip that as a consortium we tried to work out a consistent picture for the strange data we collected of NGC 5548 over the summer. It was clear that we had an unexpected result and we wanted to minimise the risk of anyone else realising this before we had chance to publish, plus we decided as a group to submit to Science and therefore it was important to keep in mind their embargo rules.

As the first paper from this campaign was published last week, I want to go back and describe the experiences I had at ISSI. I have now spent two weeks there, one in December 2013 and one in May 2014, with almost the same people each time. I learnt a lot during both of these weeks at ISSI, but also found them very different; I will try to explain this in the rest of this post. Continue reading

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X-ray Universe 2014 – Dublin, Ireland

A full session hearing about Athena and the future of X-ray astronomy. Credit: @antmarcarr on Twitter. Click on the photo to go to the original tweet.

A full session hearing about Athena and the future of X-ray astronomy. Credit: @antmarcarr on Twitter. Click on the photo to go to the original tweet.

Last week I went to my first international astronomy conference, X-ray Universe 2014. This was organised by the XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre and had about 350 delegates, 217 talks and 135 posters.

I took a poster, showing my work so far this year, and the consortium I’m in had six talks about our NGC 5548 campaign on one afternoon (I’ve explained the main result we announced in this post).

While this was my first international astronomy conference, it wasn’t my first international conference, as I had attended the International Planetarium Society’s 2012 conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That one had 700 delegates, so the 350 people at X-ray Universe felt less intimidating than it would have done otherwise! Continue reading

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Doing science and dealing with Science

A screenshot from an animated journey through the active galaxy NGC 5548, created by Renaud Person, one of the world directors of the famous Assassin's Creed video game

A screenshot from an animated journey through the active galaxy NGC 5548, created by Renaud Person, one of the world directors of the famous Assassin’s Creed video game. Click on the image to watch the animation on YouTube.

It has been almost six about four (EDIT: I counted…) months since my last post, and for once there has been a reason for that other than “I was busy”. I started this blog as a way to write about my research and experiences as a PhD student at MSSL, and for the last 6 months the experiences I’ve wanted to write about have all been directly connected to something I have had to keep quiet.

On 19 June 2014, the first academic paper I have been involved in was published:

“A fast and long-lived outflow from the supermassive black hole in NGC 5548″, J. S. Kaastra et al, Science, 19 June 2014 (10.1126/science.1253787)

A free to access version is available on the arXiv here.

EDIT: A non-specialist summary is on the UCL news page here.

I have written before about my involvement in a consortium; this group of over 30 astronomers has been working together on one set of data, a multi-wavelength campaign studying the active galaxy NGC 5548.

Submitting this paper to Science meant that the whole consortium decided not to publicise our research, as when Science accepts a paper it is then under embargo until publication.

Continue reading

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The Importance Of Your PhD Supervisor

I am really enjoying my PhD at MSSL and the life I have around it, but not every day starts particularly well. Continue reading

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Impostor Syndrome, Happiness and To-Do Lists

I was asked recently, “What’s your life goal, your aim?”.

Starting a PhD involves lots of people asking if academia is the career you’ve decided you want. It also involves lots of people assuming that academia is the career you’ve decided you want. Either way, those people tend to tell you what they consider are the most important skills to build up during a PhD. This mostly consists of being told things.

When I was asked what my life goal is, I had to think for a while. In the end I decided the only true way to answer that is by saying, “I want to be happy”.

Then I was asked, “What makes you happy?”. “Oh” I thought, “That’s a difficult question”. Continue reading

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Astro Group Seminar: Satellite Galaxy Evolution and Student Advice

New Hubble image of galaxy cluster Abell 1689. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble

New Hubble image of galaxy cluster Abell 1689. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble

Every Thursday afternoon (apart from the first one in a month) the Astrophysics Group at MSSL has a seminar. These seem to mostly be by speakers from different institutions and about a wide range of topics. After the main seminar the speaker also sits down with the PhD students to answer any questions and give career advice. I enjoyed both sections and have summarized both in this post.

Although I have been at MSSL for three weeks now, due to a welcome event at UCL’s main campus and the beginning of a month, last week was my first seminar.  The speaker was Dr Anna Pasquali from the University of Heidelberg who talked about satellite galaxy evolution. Continue reading

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