Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University of Leicester
Dates: Aug 2013-Jul 2018
Summary: My work deals with the high-energy frontier of astronomy: science with cosmic photons with a billion times higher energies than X-rays. These very-high-energy (VHE) gamma-rays are rare but important. Huge collection areas (square kilometers) are required to collect them but they allow us to probe extreme phenomena and otherwise invisible particles. To detect VHE gamma-rays we use the Earth’s atmosphere as part of our detector: incoming photons initiate particle cascades, which in turn produce Cherenkov radiation, a blue glow associated with particles travelling very close to the speed of light. Flashes of Cherenkov light lasting a few billionths of a second, can be detected at ground level using arrays of large telescopes equipped with highly specialised cameras. The next big step in this field is an observatory called CTA: the Cherenkov Telescope Array, which will make use of over 100 telescopes and dramatically improve the precision and sensitivity of VHE observations as well as extending our knowledge of the universe into uncharted territory: pushing back the high energy frontier by an order of magnitude.
Since last summer CTA has made several very important steps forward, passing a preliminary design review and starting negotiations with candidate sites to host the observatory. The work here in the UK has also gone extremely well, with a prototype camera being assembled in Leicester that should be complete within a few months. We also organised, together with STFC, an industry day for CTA, attended by 40 industry representatives interested in getting involved with the project. As CTA Project Scientist I have been working towards the CTA Technical Design Report, which will be reviewed by a panel of international experts early next year an lead (we hope!) to approval to start construction of the telescope array.