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Blog

Return to the Moon

Alan Duffy

One of the coolest parts of my job is that I can take film-crews around the world and showcase the incredible science and technology that is out there, but seeing the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre just tops everything. My huge thanks to ABC Catalyst for letting me reveal the change space race that means the return to the moon is a competition between startups not superpowers. This is a topic I raved about in the Sydney Morning Herald, and there was also a really nice review of the TV episode in The Australian. You can watch the episode online on ABC iView.

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Space at the World Government Summit

Alan Duffy

At the truly epic World Government Summit I was privileged to lead the discussion of Mars settlement by the best and brightest from the UAE Space Agency and make the broader case for space with an international panel. Apart from that I got to hear from Forest Whitaker, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku all in one day..! The #worldgovsummit is truly an extraordinary meeting of the world’s best minds. Just as exciting will be to see the new businesses and activities that come from this meeting, I certainly aim to work more closely with an international range of impressive people, all with varied backgrounds I could never hope to have met at any other meeting. It was a genuine pleasure to meet and discuss space technologies with the extraordinary young engineers of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. I have to say the task facing the program director for Mars 2117, Saeed Al GerGawi, are humbling - but he and his team are more than up to the task if this gorgeous VR tour of their Mars City is anything to go by!

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MelbHenge grows

Alan Duffy

The grassroots effort to map out the best place to view MelbHenge as the Sun sets between a mile long corridor of Melbourne's skyscrapers continues to grow. This headline photo courtesy of LookAboutPhotography is just one incredible example of that.I'm always amazed at how many people get out and share their photos of this epic event... but we still don't know where best to view it! So we asked Melbournians to take a photo, share the location and use #MelbHenge so Swinburne University of Technology astronomers could update our map of the city to make this event bigger and better each year. Last time was featured on the BBC world news, let's see what we can do in the years ahead.

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"The formation of hot gaseous haloes around galaxies" - Correa et al. (2018)

Alan Duffy

My old student Camila Correa continues to revolutionise the basic fundamentals and assumed wisdom of galaxy formation. In particular she thoroughly explored the simple idea that infalling gas will shock against the other gas floating around the galaxy. In this paper, Camila used the EAGLE simulation series to explore the way in which exploding stars (supernovae) or feeding blackholes (AGN) impact that development of the hot halo. Essentially the supernovae ejects gas from the galaxy into nearby space, presenting a bigger target to infalling material, and hence makes the hot halo easier to form. The blackholes on the other are more energetic and eject material from the halo entirely, making it harder to form the hot halo in the first place. Overall, Camila showed that there was a critical halo mass above which the hot halo will form, around a half the size of the Milky Way at the present day.

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Storytime Pledge

Alan Duffy

Australia's Chief Scientist recognises the critical importance of reading, and developing an early love of that reading! So he started the #StorytimePledge to call on scientists to share their books that they aim to read to loved ones over the holidays. My pledge? There's no better childhood story than Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and not just because I have a serious chocolate addiction. 

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"Dark-ages reionization and galaxy formation simulation XII: Bubbles at dawn" - Geil et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

One of my favourite human beings, colleagues and collaborators - Dr Paul Geil - also came up with one of my favourite paper titles of all time. The work using DRAGONS focusses on the structure of the Epoch of Reionisation. In the first billion years after the Big Bang growing galaxies shone with ionising UV light, lighting up the Universe itself. This light ionised the hydrogen gas lying around the galaxies, creating cavities or bubbles in the intergalactic medium. the exact structure of the bubbles, how many of a given size and their rate of growth, is intimately tied to the nature of dark matter and the physics of galaxy formation. Paul predicted how new telescopes like the Square Kilometre Array can explore these bubbles, and exactly how awesome they will be at constraining all sorts of physics. A huge piece of work that will be years in the testing, so forward looking is its predictions.

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Citation brag

Alan Duffy

OK yes I know citation metrics are not the best way to measure performance. And yes by making the measure of success the target of success we then ruin the value of the measuring metric in, well, measuring (sorry for butchering your Law Goodhardt). But it was still a thrill to see one of my works be cited and used by international colleagues 500 times now. Amazing to think something I have done has been useful to so many great scientists! 

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Vice Chancellor Awards

Alan Duffy

In Swinburne's version of the Oscars (yes, just as glamorous, albeit with less acceptance speech tears) we had our best and brightest recognised, and I was truly humbled to see my Science in VR team's efforts counted amongst such top Swinburne staff. SciVR won the VC Award for Community Engagement, which caps off an incredible year for this app. It was also fantastic to be highly commended with my colleagues in the Deans and VC Scholarship Network in the VC's Award for (Higher Education) Teaching Excellence. A great outcome for all and one I was proud to be part of in SciVR and the Scholarship Network. The partying continued well after the event too (sadly I was in bed as I'm now too old for these Oscar shindigs).

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"Dark-ages reionization and galaxy formation simulation X: The small contribution of quasars to reionization" - Qin et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

One of the oldest questions in the study of Reionisation, the few hundred million years in which almost all of the hydrogen in the Universe was ionised effectively at once, is simple - where does the UV light to ionise the gas come from? One very popular idea is blackholes, or rather the accretion disks around them, where material swirls around the gravitational plughole become incredibly hot and bright in UV / X-ray emission. This fantastic work by Yuxiang Qin used DRAGONS universes to show that there simply isn't enough of these sources, known as AGN or Quasars, to do the job - or at least not if you want to match the number of blackholes that exist today. That's because to be bright, and reionise the universe, they have to feed a lot and in the process grow too large relative to what we see today. This work undoubtedly disappointed some Quasar fans out there, but that's the beauty of science, the facts don't care what you might hope and you have to follow the results to their conclusion. 

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"Dark-ages reionization and galaxy formation simulation XI: Clustering and halo masses of high redshift galaxies" = Park et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

Where do galaxies form? how big can they be? Do galaxies 'prefer' to lie closer to one another or further apart? And how does all of this change across Cosmic Time? These are just some of the questions Jaehong Park asked within the DRAGONS team in this paper. To explore how galaxies grow near one another, known as clustering, and how they grow within the larger dark matter halos, aka bias, Jaehong analysed countless thousands of simulated galaxies. Compared against one another, at different outputs from the simulated universe of DRAGONS, the overall distributions were robustly analysed with statistical tools that then permitted comparison with images from Hubble. The work is a staggering scale and one I'm sure Jaehong will be proud of for many years to come.

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A Tall Poppy

Alan Duffy

This is a great honour (and also a fun award title!) to be one of Victoria's 2017 Tall Poppies, an award recognising up and coming scientists for their research and efforts to translate this into the public domain. I have to say I felt humbled to be alongside colleagues investigating new solar technologies, cancer treatments and more! 

That I got to celebrate it with the two Sarah's in my life (my boss and my wife!) was a real thrill for me.

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Wining and Dining with Brian Cox

Alan Duffy

It was a very special evening spent celebrating the 21st Birthday of Lateral Events, they of the L'Etape Australia / Brian Cox / Sir David Attenborough speaking tour fame. If you can judge a person by the company they keep then you can certainly judge this company by the people they invite! I was able to bore everyone from ABC's MD Michelle Guthrie, Ray Martin, Adam Spencer, Lateral CEO Simon Baggs too the host Prof Brian Cox himself. A wonderful evening that I am incredibly happy to boast of, especially as the wines were selected by none other than the Queen's wine advisor herself Jancis Robinson

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"Dark-ages reionization and galaxy formation simulation XIII: AGN quenching of high-redshift star formation in ZF-COSMOS-20115" - Qin et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

A lovely piece of work by my student Yuxiang Qin, and amazingly rapid turn around of a paper using the DRAGONS series of supercomputer models. The newly discovered galaxy ZF-Cosmos-20115 had some remarkably strange properties that at first glance seemed to bend the laws of galaxy formation to be so large so soon after the Big Bang. This work instead revealed that the rapid stellar mass gain, and the resulting quiescence thereafter, can be naturally explained by significant mergers of smaller objects that created the large stellar nucleus - but this large central bulge itself then inhibited future star formation. This was then tracked back in time in the DRAGONS universe to reveal that the rapidly growing black holes of the earlier universe could indeed by housed in what then becomes these strange quiescent galaxies at later times.

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"Tracing HI Beyond the Local Universe" - Meyer et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

As radio telescopes become ever larger, and evermore capable, they can see ever further into the Universe. Together with my coauthors, quite literally some of the greatest radio astronomers in the world, we realised that several equations used in radio observations were just too inaccurate (if not wrong!) for the distant universe. This paper is our attempt to give a guidebook and rigorously derived, and checked, equations for this future era of radio observation with the Square Kilometre Array. You can also have fun with the online observation calculator to see what we mean. Fun story I first started doing these calculations with Martin and rest about 6 years ago. Happy to finally see this published!

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Appointed Lead Scientist

Alan Duffy

This is an incredible honour and something I'm delighted to finally announce but after a national application process I've been chosen as the new Lead Scientist of the Royal Institution of Australia, home of Australia's Science Channel

Australia, and the world, faces significant challenges ahead but it will be more science and technology not less that will see us through. That’s why it’s so critical we continue to explain and share the latest breakthroughs by Australia’s researchers and inspire the next generation into STEM. At Australia’s Science Channel we can ensure the best and most inspiring science stories are fed directly into classrooms around the nation, and further shared around the world. 

I hope I live up to the great legacy of the Royal Institution and am able to play a positive role in raising science's profile, and science literacy more generally, in Australia!

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"Dark-ages reionization and galaxy formation simulation IX: Economics of Reionizing Galaxies" - Duffy et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

This is one of the most fun papers I have ever written (and not just because of the title). The picture astronomers have of the early universe is one of galaxies growing rapidly, turning vast quantities of gas rich clouds into stars in a boom-time of star formation. By using the Smaug simulations of this period I and my DRAGONS colleagues were able to explore this picture. We found that cold gas is indeed consumed rapidly, in just 300 million years irrespective of how stars explode or that gas can cool. However, theres so much material pouring into the galaxies at this time that they simply can't consume it all! A system where demand (gas turing into stars) can't raise to meet supply (of new primary material flowing in) is a recession.

Far from a booming bull-market, the early Universe was a recessionary bear-market and that's why I love this paper...

 

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"Dark-ages reionization and galaxy formation simulation VIII: Suppressed growth of dark matter haloes during the Epoch of Reionization" - Qin et al. (2017)

Alan Duffy

This is a spectacular study by my Yuxiang Qin, one of my PhD students I am fortunate to co-supervise with Dr Simon Mutch and Prof Stuart Wyithe as part of DRAGONS. In this work Yuxiang compares the growth of dark matter structures in the early universe both with and without the impact of gas physics (in particular the fact that giant clouds of atoms have a pressure that prevents them collapsing unlike dark matter). Most simulations ignore that effect to save computational time. Yuxiang showed that's potentially a disastrous step for first structures where the gas prevents the halo from collapsing and through its gravitational pull can also slow the collapse of dark matter itself meaning simulations that take a computational shortcut can produce early haloes that are far larger than they should otherwise be. 

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Stargazing: Journey in to Space with Dr Duffy and Grace

Alan Duffy

I loved making this short ABC ME series with the wonderfully talented and ever enthusiastic Grace Koh trying to explain the answers to questions that we all think of, while restricting ourselves to a green screen and about 3 minutes in total. You can watch all 5 episodes on iView or catch them as interstitials between your favourite shows on ABC ME. Also who doesn't love a big red button?!

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Todd Sampson's Life on the Line

Alan Duffy

Todd Sampson is insane. There. I said it. I understand physics, I trust 100% in the universality of the laws we explore in Life on the Line, but I certainly don't have 100% trust in the engineering. In episode 3 we discuss Friction by throwing Todd off a bungee jump without it being secured (simply interleaved pages of a phonebook). The principle of geometric amplification of the friction means that these phonebooks won't slip by. Everything else however could go wrong. In episode 4 we discuss Conversation of Energy by using a one tonne wrecking ball. This actually DOES go wrong. Yet still he risks his life. I love Todd's trust in my calculations, I just wish he wouldn't actually put his Life on the Line with them. 

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Stargazing Live: Back to Earth

Alan Duffy

Awesome. In the truest sense of the word. How else to describe Stargazing Live? A national science extravaganza that involved the great on screen scientists of our age (Prof Brian Cox, Prof Chris Lintott, A/Prof Lisa Harvey-Smith) explaining the latest science from the gorgeous Siding Spring Observatory. I was a permanent panel member trying to answer the public's questions on the Back to Earth show that followed Stargazing each night. The public were asked to help us find alien worlds using Exoplanet Explorer, by the of the three nights Brian was able to announce a world with four super-Earths all closer in than Mercury... Insane. I still can't understand how it formed. Truly one of the most incredible experiences I've ever been part of, thanks Stargazing!

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