I’m a radio astronomer working on starburst galaxies (and, sometimes, AGN). I completed a four-year masters degree in Physics with Astrophysics (including summer studentships at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Sydney where I worked with the instrument science group, and at Jodrell Bank Observatory where I worked on gravitational lensing and wrote my first paper) before studying for a PhD in radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank Observatory. I stayed on at Jodrell for a bit as a postdoc before moving to Australia for three years to work at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy (CIRA, one half of ICRAR) at Curtin University of Technology, where I was also the outreach coordinator for the group and a member of the international SKA Outreach committee. In 2011 I returned to the UK and spent a few months working back at Jodrell Bank Observatory on commissioning of e-MERLIN, working on data quality assessments, analysis of early science data, user support and data pipelines. In August 2011 I relocated to the Netherlands to take up a postdoc at ASTRON, and in 2013 I moved back to the UK for another position at the University of Manchester.
My PhD had two themes: radio supernovae in nearby starbursts, and masers in the nearby starburst galaxy M82. The first of these themes involved a five year observing project using both the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, and the Multi-Element Radio-Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) in England, to observe a sample of ten galaxies searching for new radio supernovae events. The idea is that optical surveys, while easier, could be missing supernovae in the central dusty regions of starburst galaxies because the dust blocks the light. This means that the estimates of the supernova rate are probably underestimated and, since this can be used to estimate the starformation rate in a galaxy, the starformation rates are probably underestimated as well. We discovered two new sources during this project, and did some really neat follow-up work on several other radio supernovae that happened during the project. I did a lot of observing while working on this project, and wrote up the interim results for my PhD.
The other part of my thesis was a study of OH masers in M82. Masers are like lasers, but while lasers in the lab generate huge amplifications through multiple passes of a light beam through a gas, masers in space are single-pass only – there are no giant mirrors to reflect the microwaves back through the amplifying cloud! These masers are often found in galactic disks, including the Milky Way, and can tell us a lot about the dynamics and physical conditions of the OH gas causing the maser effect.
Since completing my PhD my research interests have continued to diversify. I am currently involved with target of opportunity programmes investigating radio supernovae, several projects utilising the new wide-field capabilities of the DiFX software correlator (which allow the mapping of the entire primary beam of a VLBI array) including a high-resolution survey of M31, and a combined NuSTAR/Chandra/VLBA project investigating the nature of the X-ray sources in NGC253, a study of the Galaxy Zoo Voorwerpjes sample using Westerbork, an investigation of the nature of compact ultra-steep spectrum radio sources using the EVN and e-MERLIN commissioining data, more observations of the OH masers in M82, and e-MERLIN observations investigating the nature of the Arp147 interacting ring galaxy.