Skip to content


Ian Smail

Professor Ian Smail

Professor Ian Smail

Research Fellow

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

The physics of the formation of massive galaxies

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Organisation: University of Durham

Dates: Apr 2013-Mar 2018

Value: £75,000

Summary: I study how stars are born in young galaxies in the early Universe. This problem is fundamental to the question of the origin of both our Sun and our Galaxy. However, we lack a theoretical model for how stars are form, and so we have to tackle this problem observationally through studies of star formation, both locally and in the distant Universe usingthe newest telescopes and satellites. Although the Earth's atmosphere is mostly opaque to light between 10um and 1mm, there are transparent "windows" in the submm through which we can observe the Universe. The UK's SCUBA submm camera on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, sited on a dormant volcano in Hawaii, was the first instrument to map the sky in the submm. I was one of three young researchers who used SCUBA to get a first view of the earliest stages of galaxy formation from the radiation (heat) emitted by dust around stars forming in young galaxies. We found astounding numbers of submm-bright galaxies in the distant Universe, indicating a profound change in the vigor of star formation in galaxies over the last 10 billion years. Over the past decade I have led a series of studies of these galaxies which have shown that they are undergoing violent starbursts forming thousands of new stars each year (in comparison our own Galaxy forms just a few stars per year) and that they contain large reservoirs of gas necessary to fuel this activity for a period of up to 100 million years. Such prolonged starbursts could form all the stars seen in our Galaxy today in a single event! My latest research uses the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. ALMA is 100x more powerful than existing submm telescopes and enables us to investigate the mix of stars, gas and dust within vigorously growing galaxies, to trace how they form and evolve. ALMA has recently begun operations and so it is already producing significant advance in our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution.

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University of Durham

Dates: Oct 1998-Sep 2008

Value: £354,975.08

Summary: This project summary is not available for publication.

Was this page useful?
Thank you for your feedback
Thank you for your feedback. Please help us improve this page by taking our short survey.