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Research overview

The night sky contains a huge amount of stars, galaxies and dust. Everything we see is made of the same atoms found in the periodic table, our bodies, the air we breathe, and the screen that you're looking at. We understand it fairly well. However, evidence from several sources now agrees that this is a tiny fraction of the total amount of stuff in the Universe.

There is six times more "dark matter" than all ordinary matter combined. We know embarassingly little about it. Dark matter is hard to find because it is invisible: it does not interact via the electromagnetic force, so neither emits nor reflects light. Dark matter does interact through the force of gravity, so can be seen indirectly — for example, its additional gravity makes galaxies spin faster than otherwise possible.

Much of my early work was to map the distribution of dark matter in the Universe, like charting the land of any new frontier. Dark matter and stars are always found together. It seems that dark matter separated from the cosmic soup immediately after the Big Bang, and formed giant scaffolding. Gravity gradually pulled ordinary matter inside the scaffolding, and built stars. We now understand where dark matter is.

The next step is to ask what dark matter is. Some theories predict that dark matter particles occasionally bounce off each other. When two clumps of dark matter and stars collide, such dark matter would feel extra friction, and temporarily separate from the stars. I use the Hubble Space Telescope, and am helping to build the SuperBIT and Euclid telescopes, to look for dark matter friction in mergers like the Bullet Cluster. Other theories predict that dark matter spread out after the Big Bang, smoothing lumps from the cosmic soup. I am using the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes to search for these lumps as perturbations to gravitationally lensed Einstein rings.

Meanwhile, I also enjoy applying statistical techniques from cosmology to healthcare, where I run the statistical side of a cancer trial with Roche; or image processing and fluid dynamics techniques to planetary science, where I investigate water on Mars, and the formation of the Moon. I invented software that NASA have adopted to mitigate radiation damage in the Hubble Space Telescope, and hardware that NASA are replicating to download data from all their future scientific balloon flights.

See also a list of papers I've published.

Research career

2018 → present    Durham university, Institute for Computational Cosmology: Professor of Physics
  • UK Principal Investigator of SuperBIT and GigaBIT, partners with Princeton, U. Toronto and NASA/JPL building UV+optical telescopes on high altitude balloons, for space-quality imaging from above the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Founding member of the ESA Euclid mission, and lead of CTI radiation damage monitoring and mitigation for its VIS camera.
  • Gravitational Lensing science lead (with NASA/JPL) for COSMOS-Webb, the largest JWST cycle 1 GO programme.
  • Searching for perturbations to galaxy-galaxy strong lensing caused by low-mass substructures that are predicted by the standard CDM cosmological model but not e.g. warm or self-interacting dark matter.
  • Healthcare applications of statistical techniques from astrophysics, including Bayesian Inference and Machine Learning.
2012 → 2021    Durham university, Institute for Computational Cosmology: Royal Society University Research Fellow
(also an Affiliate at NASA JPL until 2016)
  • Principal Investigator of SuperBIT-UK, partners (with Princeton, U. Toronto and NASA/JPL) in a high altitude balloon mission to achieve space-quality imaging from above the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Manager of the CTI mitigation work package for ESA's Euclid mission, evaluating and optimising the performance of its CCD imaging detectors.
  • Foundation of Durham's Airborne Instrumentation Group.
  • Development of Euclid's initial public outreach strategy, as co-manager (from 2012–14) of the ESC Communication Group.
  • Supercomputer simulations of large-scale structure formation, incorporprating dark matter particle physics beyond the standard model.
  • The phenomenology of dark matter during collisions between galaxy clusters, and the dynamics of dark matter as it moves through clusters.
  • The effect on cosmology of statistical discrepancies between gravitational lensing, X-ray and SZ observations of galaxy clusters.
  • The first cosmological measurement of weak gravitational lensing magnification, through observations of changing galaxy sizes.
  • Rapid-response imaging of gravitational wave detections, to search for optical counterparts that include gravitationally lensed kilonovae.
  • Planetary science applications of advanced image processing techniques, including maps of volcanism on the Moon and water on Mars.
  • Planetary science applications of fluid simulation techniques, including giant impacts with the Earth (which created the Moon) and Uranus (which knocked it on its side).
2008 → 2012    Royal Observatory Edinburgh: PPARC Advanced Fellow
(also a Visiting Associate in Astronomy at CalTech and Affiliate at NASA JPL)
  • Principal Investigator of HALO-UK consortium, partners (and $0.75M contributors) in a NASA balloon-borne optical telescope.
  • Member of Euclid Tiger Team to ESA.
  • Manager of the CTI mitigation work package for the ESA Cosmic Visions Euclid satellite mission, including simulated and laboratory-based evaluation of non-linear effects in optical CCDs and near-infrared detectors.
  • Core (coordination) team of the GREAT08 and GREAT10 interdisciplinary Pascal challenges.
  • Co-Investigator of NASA OMEGA satellite concept.
  • Observational search with HST for colliding objects similar to the bullet cluster.
  • The first gravitational lensing measurements of galaxy clusters discovered through the SZ effect.
  • Physics of galaxy clusters, including feedback and magnetic fields in the ICM and merger dynamics.
  • Post-SM4 CTI characterisation and correction in HST/ACS.
  • Analysis of Pan-STARRS survey.
  • Design and development of web 2.0 "papyrus" tool for browsing academic publications.
2007 → 2008    California Institute of Technology: Senior Postdoctoral Scholar
(also a private consultant on industrial applications of image analysis)
  • Principal Investigator of NASA-funded programme to ameliorate CTI problems with the HST ACS camera due to radiation damage, in preparation for shuttle servicing mission SM4. Also seeking to mitigate similar effects in the planned NASA/DOE JDEM satellite.
  • Extension of shapelets methods to analyse the non-linear gravitational signal, flexion, and coordination of the FLIP simulation programme.
  • Measurement of the density and mass function of galaxy clusters, via a wide-area weak lensing survey with the Subaru telescope.
2004 → 2007    California Institute of Technology: Postdoctoral Research Scholar
  • Weak gravitational lensing analysis of COSMOS, the largest ever survey with HST. My resulting map of dark matter appeared in the Guiness book of World Records, London Science Museum, Japanese National Science Museum, New York Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere.
  • Principal Investigator of the international STEP2 programme. For the first time, this brought together all weak lensing reasearch groups worldwide, and optimised methods for the precision measurement of galaxy shapes.
  • Lead developer of shapelets image manipulation and analysis method. My accompanying software package now has many users worldwide. As well as weak lensing, it has also been applied to problems in such diverse fields as sunspot analysis, galaxy morphology evolution, chemical molecular structure, biological cell networks, brain lesions in neuroscience, and other pattern recognition.
  • Lead developer of astronomical image simulation software. This is the mainstay of the mission simulation and optimisation tool for the SNAP satellite project (of which I have been a member since 2002), and the basis of the STEP programme.
  • Modelling HST's focus to provide a physical explanation of, and a workable solution to temporal variation in the optical Point Spread Function of the ACS camera.
2000 → 2004 Cambridge university, Clare college: PhD
1996 → 2000 Durham university, University college: MSci Mathematics and Physics

Teaching and other professional activities

2020 → present Theoretical Phyics 2 undergraduate course lecturer (~220 students per year).
2019 → present Level 4 undergraduate and MRes research projects advisor (~1 student per year).
2012 → present Communication in astrophysics (reading/writing papers and press releases) postgraduate lecturer (~10 students per year).
2016 → 2020 Electronics level 2 undergraduate laboratory supervisor (24 students per year).
2012 → 2014 Level 3 undergraduate research projects advisor (12 students per year).
2008 → 2012  Physics 1A undergraduate course lecturer (one of three) (250–320 students per year).
2009 → 2011  Applied Maths for Physicists undergraduate workshop supervisor.
2007 → 2009 Gravitational lensing postgraduate course lecturer.
2007 SLAC Summer Institute invited lecturer.
2002 → 2004 Undergraduate physics teaching assistant at Clare college, Cambridge.

Science communication

My work on dark matter maps and dark matter particle colliders has appeared in the London Science Museum, Tokyo Science Museum and New York Museum of Modern Art. I designed an exhibition to celebrate the anniversary of Arthur Eddington's observations of the 1919 total solar eclipse that proved General Relativity. This was unveiled on the West African island of Príncipe by President José Cassandra, has since toured the National Museum of São Tomé, the National Gallery of Scotland, the Museo do Eclipse in Sobral, Brazil, and a mobile exhibition that went to Brazilian schools. I have also collaborated with various artists, interpreting 'the dark universe' through installations at: the Smithsonian Museum (Washington DC), Toronto Offsite Design Festival, and the Albuquerque International Symposium for Electronic Arts. I talked at the opening of the Tim Peake exhibit at the UK National Railway Museum, worked on exhibits at three Royal Society Summer Science Exhibitions, and consulted for the California Science Center.

I have appeared on live TV News for the BBC, BBC Breakfast, Al Jazeera and NASA TV, plus twelve documentaries including BBC Horizon, NOVA, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Arté (Fr/De). I have been interviewed by many radio stations, from the BBC world service and NPR Science Friday to the morning breakfast show on KiwiFM. In person, I have delivered invited talks at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the American Museum of Natural History, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Newcastle Centre for Life. I love speaking at local schools/science festivals, public observing nights, and Café Scientifique.

My written work has been published on the front pages of Nature, The Independent, BBC News online,; it has also featured in the Guiness book of World Records. I have been a pundit on the BBC and the Great British Innovation vote, and been commissioned to write an article for BBC News online.

I helped set up and coordinate the initial science communications and public outreach strategy for the European Space Agency's Euclid mission. To pass on my enthusiasm closer to home, I spoke at the Royal Society of Edinburgh workshop for early career scientists on "Managing the media", and now run a postgraduate course in writing press releases.


2017 Royal Society University Research Fellowship extension (£298,342)
2016 British Foreign Office scientific photography prize (£1,000)
2015 Discover Magazine's top 50 science breakthroughs of the year
2012 Royal Society University Research Fellowship (£534,750)
2011 Philip Leverhulme Prize for Astronomy and Astrophysics (£70,000)
2008 Discover Magazine's top 10 science breakthroughs of the year
2007 PPARC Advanced Fellowship (£524,546)
2000 PPARC PhD Studentship
2000 Durham University Chalmers prize (for top mark in undergraduate class)

Telescope time, supercomputer time, and research grants awarded

I am a founding member of the Euclid space telescope, and UK PI of the SuperBIT stratospheric balloon-borne telescope. I have acquired major imaging surveys on the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, Keck II, Subaru, WHT and Chandra. I have obtained smaller amounts of follow-up spectroscopic and imaging time on ALMA, the VLT, Gemini, Keck I, Subaru and the Liverpool telescopes. Through participation in other projects, I have also accumulated observing experience on the AAT, UKIRT, and the UK Schmidt telescopes.

[not up-to-date] Additional grants not associated with prizes, personal fellowships or telescope/supercomputer time include:

2018   Principal Investigator of Royal Society Research Fellowship Enhancement Award (£100k)
"Dark matter particle colliders on an astronomical scale".
  Co-Principal Investigator (with Anthony Brown) of STFC Impact Acceleration Account award (£41k)
"Airborne platforms for scientific research: an integrated hardware/software solution".
  Durham lead of Horizon 2020 COMPET-4 EC network grant (€181k to Durham; €1.6M in total, with PI Tom Kitching at UCL)
"Enabling Weak Lensing Cosmology".
2017   1 of 30 co-Is on STFC consolidated grant with P.I. Ian Smail
"Durham Astronomy", including:
• science lead of project "Dark matter dynamics in clusters" (~£300k)
• science co-lead of project "UAVs for astronomy" (~£400k)
• science co-lead of project "Dark matter theory" (~£350k)
  Principal Investigator of STFC Impact Acceleration Account award (£13k)
"Hardware recovery via drone, from the edge of space".
  Principal Investigator of Durham University Astronomy Projects Grant (£50k)
"SuperBIT: Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope".
  Sole co-I on Durham University International Engagement grant with P.I. Mathilde Jauzac (£1k)
"Hubble Space Telescope Frontier Fields".
2016   Principal Investigator of Durham University Astronomy Projects Grant (£85,000)
"SuperBIT: Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope".
  Principal Investigator of Royal Society URF Summer Science Exhibition support (£1,000)
"Galaxy makers".
  1 of 4 co-Is on LSST Corporation Enabling Science grant with P.I. Tim Eifler ($10,000)
"Enhancing LSST science through overlapping suborbital missions".
  Sole co-I on Durham University International Engagement grant with P.I. Paul Clark (£1,500)
"Aeronautical engineering information exchange with NASA/JPL".
2015   PI of UK Space Agency standard grant (£500,177)
"Euclid Implementation Phase: Charge Transfer Inefficiency".
  1 of 4 co-Is on NASA ROSES APRA suborbital grant with P.I. Bill Jones ($2.54M)
"SuperBIT: wide-field, sub-arcsecond imaging from the superpressure balloon platform".
2014   1 of 28 co-Is on STFC consolidated grant with P.I. Ian Smail
"Durham Astronomy",
(including science lead of project "Cluster mass assembly and composition").
  1 of 9 co-Is on NASA HST grant AR-13886 with P.I. Ansatha Cooray
"Behind the mask: are first-light galaxies or intrahalo-light stars dominating the unresolved IR background fluctuations?".
2013   1 of 4 co-Is on STFC science communication grant with P.I. Carlton Baugh (£7,000),
Durham University outreach grant (£7,000),
and Royal Society URF Summer Science Exhibition support (£2,000)
"What is the matter?".
2012   PI of UK Space Agency standard grant (£212,000)
"Euclid Implementation Phase: Charge Transfer Inefficiency".
  1 of 5 co-Is on NASA/JPL Phaeton project with P.I. Milan Mandic
"STABLE: Subarcsecond Telescope And BaLloon Experiment".
  1 of 7 co-Is on NASA HST AR grant with P.I. Rachel Mandelbaum
"A homogeneous ACS dataset for realistic galaxy simulations".
2011   1 of 5 Co-Is on UK Space Agency standard grant with P.I. Andy Taylor (£35,000+£31,000)
"Euclid:UK" (two extensions).
  1 of 20 co-Is of Royal Observatory Edinburgh STFC Consolidated Grant with P.I. John Peacock
"Astronomy and Astrophysics at Edinburgh".
2010 Principal Investigator of Edinburgh University sustainability grant (£91,000 plus matching funds from UKATC+Durham University)
"HALO: High Altitude Lensing Observatory".
  Principal Investigator of UK Space Agency work package, part of Cropper et al. below (£31,697)
"CCD radiation damage mitigation".
  Co-Principal Investigator of NASA HST grant AR-12144 with P.I. Priya Natarajan ($65,000)
"Probing the relationship between mass and light by combining shear with flexion".
  1 of 28 co-Is of UK Space Agency standard grant with P.I. Mark Cropper (£484,400)
  1 of 4 co-Is of NASA HST grant AR-12136 with P.I. Eric Jullo ($50,000)
"Galaxy bias measurement with weak lensing in COSMOS".
2009 Principal Investigator (with Co-PI Tom Kitching) of Edinburgh University Innovation Initiative Grant 3814 (£3,800)
"Papyrus web development".
  1 of 3 co-Is of NASA HST grant AR-11769 with P.I. Jason Rhodes ($70,000)
"Mitigating Image Persistence in WFC3 NIR Observations to Allow Weak Lensing Shape Measurements".
  1 of 15 co-Is of European commission grant with P.I. Tom Kitching (€10,985)
"GREAT10 PASCAL challenge".
  1 of 3 co-Is of Royal Astronomical Society grant with P.I. Gisa Wezskalnys (£3,000)
and International Astronomical Union IYA2009 Special Global Project (£3,000)
"Celebrating the 1919 eclipse at Príncipe".
2008 Principal Investigator of European Research Council FP7 grant IRG-208994 (€100,000)
"Understanding the Dark Universe with 3D Weak Gravitational Lensing".
  1 of 3 co-Is of JPL DRDF grant 2008-112 with P.I. Jason Rhodes ($560,000)
"Ameliorating non-linear detector effects in weak gravitational lensing measurements".
  1 of 2 co-Is of NASA HST grant AR-11747 with P.I. Joel Bergé ($50,000)
"Shapelet analysis of the COSMOS field".
  1 of 11 co-Is of Royal Observatory Edinburgh STFC Rolling Grant with P.I. John Peacock
"Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology at Edinburgh".
2007 Collaborator on Beyond Einstein Foundation Science grant N5-BEFS05-0024 with P.I. Jason Rhodes ($280,000)
"Weak Gravitational Lensing Using Multi-band Imaging".
  Co-I of European commission grant with P.I. Sarah Bridle (€20,500)
"GREAT08 PASCAL challenge".
2006 Principal Investigator of NASA HST grant AR-10964 ($50,000)
"Correcting effects of Charge Transfer Inefficiency in the ACS Wide Field Camera".
2005 Collaborator on NASA grant ATP04-0000-0067 with P.I. David Goldberg ($274,127)
"Galaxy Flexion — Gravitational Lensing to Second Order".

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