It's Extreme Science!!
I am interested in extragalactic astronomy and astronomical instrumentation. My research has focused on studying extreme galaxies in the early universe, galaxies that are ~ 7 to 12 billion light years away. These galaxies reside in the Universe’s epoch of peak star formation at redshifts (z) between 1 and 3. They are hundreds to a thousand times brighter than the Milky Way, contain many times the molecular gas and form stars at rates thousands of times faster than nearby galaxies. I seek to understand what physical conditions produce these extreme galaxies and to place them in the broader context of galaxy evolution from the Big Bang until today.
To study these extreme galaxies I observe their far-infrared fine-structure emission lines. At rest these lines have wavelengths between 50 and 200 microns, but due to the great distance to the galaxies I study, the lines are redshifted to submillimeter wavelengths (0.2 - 0.8 mm). Unfortunately, submillimeter radiation is strongly absorbed by water vapor, so high and very dry sites like Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, the Atacama desert in Chile, or the South Pole are needed to observe at these wavelengths. Even then, only a handful of wavelength windows are transparent enough for observations.
Due to the site requirements and technological limitations submillimeter astronomy has long been restricted to a few research groups. Now however, technology has matured and submillimeter astronomy is quickly becoming accessible to all astronomers. Observatories like the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), and my own instrument, the 2nd generation z(Redshift) and early Universe Spectrometer (ZEUS-2), are giving astronomers easy access to this wavelength regime.
Hubble image (From Ivison et al. 2010) of the extreme galaxey SMMJ02399 at z ~ 2.6. This galaxy is a forming stars thousand times faster than the Milky Way. See Ferkinhoff et al. 2010 and 2011 for more details