GWA GREAT WESTERN ASTROPHYSICS COMMUNITY

INITIATOR FUND 

Project period: February – May 2016 

GW4 community leads 

University of Bath: Carole Mundell 
University of Bristol: Malcolm Bremer 
Cardiff University: Jonathan Davies 
University of Exeter: Tim Naylor (PI) 

Project overview

This project aims to build closer collaboration between the GW4 astrophysics groups. The primary aim is to enhance our impact in the large partnerships that are building the next generation of astronomical observatories, in addition to improving our efficiency by working together. 

Background 

Astronomy is a discipline in which all GW4 institutions have made significant investments, most recently with the formation of Bath’s Astrophysics Group. Grand challenges in the field include how galaxies, stars and planets form, the opportunities for life elsewhere in the universe, and ultimately elucidating the fundamental laws of physics. It is driven by observations using large-scale facilities (telescopes and satellites) normally run by national or international bodies. Due to the natural timescale of these projects the subject benefits from having clear roadmaps (such as the US decadal survey) reaching out more than ten years into the future. These roadmaps capture the field’s grand challenges, making it clear which topics within the discipline will drive progress and funding into the future.  

Two key international collaborative projects starting operations around 2020 are the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The combined UK investment in these is at least £150M. In the run-up to operations (and beyond), UK universities will be able to bid for funding for scientific and technical involvement in these and other projects (in addition to the normal STFC and European grants in which GW4 astronomers have done very well). Leadership within these collaborations almost inevitably comes from early involvement, which results in leading key findings, and being well placed to exploit them.  

The individual GW4 astronomy groups have been highly successful at winning time on the current generation of facilities where it is awarded by open competition, and at establishing positions within consortia. We now have the opportunity to build on our existing joint expertise in strategically chosen future projects, opening new avenues for funding and scientific leadership beyond those possible for any single group. 

Project summary 

The community engaged nearly 40 academics from astronomy groups within GW4. The funding allowed the group to become aware of the breadth of research topics within GW4, and created interdisciplinary links between the universities which will lead to strong funding applications. The community held two workshops, one to scope the research across GW4 and stimulate discussion of possible new collaborative research areas and a second theme-specific workshop on planet formation. These workshops led to multiple grant applications and future plans to leverage the strength of the GW4 community in applications for projects using large international research facilities.