“Supermassive black holes have loads of weird and interesting physics going on that excites me”

Matt Fahey (pictured in front of the iconic Williamson Park Ashton Memorial in Lancaster), a fourth year MPhys Astrophysics student from near Oxford, is the newest member of the XGAL team, joining for a Masters studying Lyman-Alpha haloes around Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) after having really enjoyed working with David for his third-year group project on AGN. His work is hoping to see if the Lyman-Alpha haloes around AGN look any different to those around star-forming galaxies and using them to understand the way the galaxy containing it evolves. 

AGNs are Matt’s current interest and research focus, but he’s also always been interested in neutron stars, due to the insanely high energy that these stars harbour and the opportunities for collaboration between astrophysicists and particle physicists (who often have a bit of a rivalry). For Matt, there are certain things he wished he’d heard as a fresher or early on in his degree which he wanted to share, these two being key lessons he has learnt:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, the only silly question is the one that doesn’t get asked. 

Don’t be afraid of coding, it can be a bit daunting at first, but it will make sense in the end!

“Humans have always been curious about the night sky; it’s nice to see that some things haven’t changed!”

Emily Wickens is a first year student at Lancaster University who applied to do an internship with the XGAL team, not expecting to be chosen, however, she ended up on the team due to a fantastic application.  

Emily’s journey through astrophysics started when she was a child and a massive Doctor Who fan. During sixth form, she completed an astrophysics research project at the University of Hertfordshire, her local university, which was a fantastic achievement, and it made her decision to study astrophysics a no-brainer.  

Her favorite topic that isn’t studied in the XGAL team is the early universe and how it formed. If she couldn’t do physics, she’d have indulged in her interest in the history of languages and studied linguistics.  

This summer, Emily is working with Louis and Amaia on the GOODS-S catalogue of Lyman-alpha emitting galaxies (check out their project here), something that she’s excited about. One of the reasons that astronomy inspires her is that throughout history so many cultures and peoples have studied the stars and we’re still doing it today.  

“I want to contribute in a meaningful way to the beautiful world of scientific research”

Louis Marinho Fernandes, one of the interns in the SC4K in GOODS-S internship team (read about his project here), has been fascinated by everything related to the Universe since he was a child. Louis ended up on the XGAL team through an Ogden Trust internship. He is originally from France, but is currently studying at University College London, as a second year MSci student.  

Louis finds galaxies in general extremely fascinating, and is continuously in awe thinking about how each of them contains billions of stars, and that they can be part of clusters, which are then part of superclusters. His current internship is contributing to this feeling of awe he has towards the universe. Louis is always inspired by the world of scientific research and this internship, as well as another internship he did in the Summer of 2019 at Lancaster University, are some of his first steps towards starting his journey in science.

This summer, Louis is working together with Amaia and Emily on building a catalogue of Lyman alpha emitting galaxies in the GOODS South field, using some brand-new techniques to decide how to eliminate noise to then discover and categorize hundreds, if not thousands, of Lyman alpha emitting galaxies.  

“The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives”.

Amaia Imaz Blanco first joined the XGAL group in the summer of 2019 to work on an outreach project, developing the XGAL DIY activities (which you can check out here, and read her blogposts about here). ‘Once an XGAL always an XGAL’ we say, and it must be true because she is back for another internship this summer, but due to COVID-19 things are a little different. Amaia is working remotely from her home in the Netherlands, making learning something new all the more challenging! Despite this, working in a team with Emily and Louis, they have been building a new catalogue of Lyman-alpha emitting galaxies in the GOODS South field, adapting to the situation (read all about this project here).  

Although Amaia is currently studying high redshift galaxies, her interest in astronomy has a much larger range. Her favourite astronomical object is actually Mars, and being on our doorstep, it is becoming more and more likely that we will get to visit the red planet soon. There is still so much more to learn about Mars which Amaia may even be a part of in the future! She also has a fascination for extrasolar planets, and the possibility of life on them. 

Regardless of what area Amaia ends up in, we should expect great things! Learning on the job for two summers now, she is not afraid of a challenge and has shown a real passion and enthusiasm for exploring the Universe. Having learnt that asking questions is fundamental to learning and doubting your own ability is natural at times, she quotes from Neil Degrasse Tyson, “No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives”.  

“I thought I wanted to go to space and go to Mars”

Emma Dodd has just finished her Masters in Physics, Astrophysics, and Cosmology at Lancaster University and is heading to the University of Groningen in the Netherlands to do a PhD.  

Emma has for a few years been the whiz kid of the XGAL team, doing her first research internship with the team in the summer of her first year, 2017, searching for galaxies with ALMA data. Since then she has done an internship at Leiden University (which you can read about here) and a second internship at Lancaster University with XGAL (read all about it here), as well as done her masters project with David Sobral on globular clusters.  She even went observing in La Palma together with David and a couple other students, check out that experience here. This summer, Emma will be attempting to finish off the paper on Lyman Alpha haloes that she started during her internship last summer, in order to get it ready to publish!

Emma at the Observatorio Roque de los Muchachos La Palma in 2018

Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock had a big influence in inspiring Emma to study astrophysics, and the XGAL team has her to thank for ending up with such a motivated member.  Emma attended her talk on colonizing Mars when she was sixteen which is what led her to study astrophysics so she could go to space. Since attending university, she has realized her true passion lies in research.  

As everyone around Emma knows, her favourite astronomical object is a globular cluster, which she became passionate about during her second-year internship in Leiden, and she created her own masters project about them in her fourth year. If you’ve ever heard Emma talk about a globular cluster, her passion for these objects shines through. 

Emma has also featured on the English version of the podcast “The Earth is flat on Planet Pluto” so if you want to learn more about her and her science check it out here.

“MASOSA is my favorite astronomical object because it has a bit of my name in it”

Sérgio Santos, another of David Sobral’s PhD students has been working with David since they were both in Lisbon, has a galaxy named after him. This galaxy, MASOSA, was a massive discovery by the team and is named after Jorryt Matthee, David Sobral, and Sérgio Santos, using the first two letters of each of their surnames. Sérgio’s research during his PhD has also been groundbreaking, finding almost 4000 distant galaxies in different redshift cuts in the COSMOS field, among which were CR7, MASOSA, and VR7, discovered together with David Sobral and others. 

However, Sérgio was actually interested in exoplanets rather than super distant galaxies until he started an Undergraduate project with David in Lisbon and it changed the direction of his research, and eventually brought him to Lancaster.  

This summer, Sérgio is working on finishing off his PhD and finally becoming Dr. Sérgio Santos, with his VIVA happening the first week of August. His most important bit of advice to the new members of the team, interns Amaia, Louis, and Emily, is “Have fun, you are studying super distant galaxies, many of them never seen before. What you are doing is groundbreaking and so exciting”

Sérgio has featured on both the Portuguese version and English version of David Sobral’s podcast, The Earth is flat on planet Pluto, which you can check out the Portuguese version here and the English version here !

“CR7 (COSMOS Redshift 7) made me fall in love with astrophysics”

Heather Wade, David’s newest PhD student, explained that she arrived at Lancaster for her undergrad intent on doing particle physics and working at CERN. However, David explaining his team’s discovery of CR7 in her second year Astronomy module helped uncover her passion and love for astrophysics.  

Heather wasn’t initially planning on doing a PhD, but she didn’t want to leave Lancaster University when she finished her masters and so asked her supervisor John Stott if there were any available internships. After being put in contact with David, he offered her an internship, and suggested she apply to a PhD with him, she’s now been working on that PhD for almost a year, and is very glad that David contacted her.  

Heather said that if she wasn’t doing astronomy she would be working in Data Science/Data Analysis, earning more money but also doing much less interesting work. During her masters project she studied galaxy clusters with Hubble Space Telescope data, seeing how they evolve. This summer she will continue working on her PhD, finding line emitters in HAWK-I and VLT data in the COSMOS field at even higher redshifts than David’s team had previously found line emitters.  

When asked about what inspires her, she said: “There are so many mysteries in the Universe! Let’s try and figure some of them out” a philosophy that is a big part of what the XGAL team lives and works by and should inspire others in science.  

“I’ve wanted be an astronomer since I was 11 years old”

This series of posts will be introducing everyone that is working with David Sobral this summer, in a hope to make XGAL even more accessible! Keep an eye on this page for the rest of them because the XGAL team is full of interesting individuals with very cool research!

Long Term XGAL member and passionate astronomer João Calhau tells us this when asked about how he ended up studying astrophysics/astronomy. He met David Sobral, head of the XGAL team, whilst doing a Masters’ Research Fellowship with him at Lisbon Observatory and has been in the XGAL team since its creation, having finished his PhD this year and officially becoming Dr. João Calhau last month.  

This summer João is working on x-ray/radio analysis of galaxies in the VIS3COS cluster, whilst applying for post doc positions and job hunting across Europe from his family home in sunny Alentejo, Portugal. During his PhD at Lancaster University João looked at the joint evolution of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies however he is now working with Ana Afonso and David Sobral on constraining SED fitting in the FIR with 850 micrometers for SC4K.  

João’s long-time hero and famous astronomer Carl Sagan said “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself”, João has been working on making sure the cosmos knows itself for years now, but if he wasn’t doing astronomy he’d be doing arts (in particular digital art), another of his long term passions.