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Haley Gomez

My doctoral research took place in Cardiff University, supervised by Professor Mike Edmunds, titled 'The Origin and Evolution of Dust'.  The work in the thesis was concerned mainly with determining the origin of cosmic dust, the tiny smoke-sized particles in space.  These particles block out visible light and profoundly affect our view of the Universe, much in the same way that a room full of smoke or fog changes how we see things.  Astronomers know that cosmic dust plays an important part in many astronomical processes, but remarkably little is known about its origin.  Using a theoretical model which follows the output of chemical elements from stars (from which dust is made), we found that there is not enough dust being made in the conventional 'textbook'  way and decided to look at the explosions of massive stars (supernovae).   Supernovae evolve on very 'short' time-scales (millions of years instead of the billions of years it takes our Sun to evolve).  Since these explosions inject lots of chemical elements  into their surroundings - up to 5 times the mass of the Sun - we wanted to see if cosmic dust was being formed in the blast waves.  

We used a sub-millimetre camera on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, to search for radiation from cold dust grains in Kepler's supernova which is 15,000 light years away.   We discovered around 1 solar mass (the mass of the Sun) of cosmic dust which could have been produced by the massive star, suggesting that supernovae may in fact be efficient factories of cosmic dust.  This is 1000 times more than previously found in supernovae (missed by previous observations which observed only the emission from a small amount of 'hot' dust).  This may have important consequences for planet formation in the early Universe, since the Earth is effectively a giant dust grain.  These observations give us a tantalising glimpse of how the first solid particles in the Universe were created.    My research was carried out in collaboration with Dr Loretta Dunne (University of Nottingham), Prof Steve Eales (Cardiff University) and Dr Rob Ivison (UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Royal Observatory Edinburgh).   This work has stirred up a lot of debate and discussion in the field (although not all agreeing with our results!). 

After completing a research fellowship with the Royal Commission of the Exhibition of 1851, I am now a lecturer at Cardiff University, continuing the research from my PhD studies into cosmic dust grains and particularly how they are formed in elliptical galaxies.  This includes working with an international team of of astronomers.  We still know very little about this type of galaxy, especially in the infrared region.  We were successful in gaining a large chunk of time on the new infrared space telescope AKARI, which will give us a completely new viewpoint on these galaxies.  I also spend a lot of time teaching undergraduates and taking part in outreach activities, including running an astronomy club in a local school. I find this part of my job extremely rewarding.

( January 2007)