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Astrophysics and Space Science

Astrophysics and Space Science

UCD has a distinguished tradition in astrophysics, starting from pioneering work in the 1960’s on the development of ground-based high-energy gamma-ray astronomy. Astrophysics continues to be a vibrant area in UCD, with approximately 20 staff, researchers and students. Researchers play key roles in international collaborations and consortia, and have published more than 200 refereed articles in the last 5 years, including 13 papers in Science, Nature and Nature Astronomy. Among the major accomplishments of UCD astrophysicists over the past five years are their involvement in the first ever detections of electromagnetic signals associated with neutrinos and gravitational waves. This work, carried out in international teams, has opened up a new window on the night sky, and ushered in the exciting era of multi-messenger astronomy.

UCD astronomers are leading research on a wide range of topics, including the search for and characterisation of galactic and extragalactic very high-energy gamma-ray sources with the VERITAS telescope array; CTA; astrophysical jets with LOFAR; pulsar timing; shock acceleration theory; gamma-ray bursts and other transients detected by NASA’s Swift and Fermi, and ESA’s INTEGRAL and XMM-Newton satellites; progenitors of supernovae & tidal disruption events; terrestrial gamma-ray flashes; development of novel scintillators and gamma-ray detectors; CubeSats; robotic telescopes; electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave sources; data mining astrophysical transients; star and planet formation research with the Hubble Space Telescope; the future ARIEL space mission to characterise exoplanet atmospheres; ESO’s VLT and VLTI telescope facilities, the Gemini telescopes and ALMA.

Development of the Educational Irish Research Satellite (EIRSAT-1) is being led by UCD astrophysics students and staff, in collaboration with mathematicians and engineers, and is Ireland’s first satellite. The mission will fly innovative Irish technology in space, including a new detector to observe gamma-ray bursts.

DEIRDRE COFFEY is Assistant Professor in UCD School of Physics. She is an observational astrophysicist in the field of star and planet formation. She conducted her doctoral research at The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), followed by five years of post-doctoral research experience between DIAS and Arcetri Observatory in Florence. She is involved in several European collaborations, using world-class telescopes in space (Hubble, JWST) and on ground (VLT, Gemini and ALMA). She is National Project Manager in the consortium for Ariel, an upcoming ESA medium-class mission, which will probe exoplanet atmospheres. Her teaching responsibilities include design and coordination of UCD's MSc Space Science & Technology, which continues to attract significant interest from industry.


Professor PETER DUFFY is a theoretical astrophysicist who works on high-energy particle acceleration, the plasma physics associated with the interaction between energetic particles and the background thermal gas and the associated radiation mechanisms. He did his doctoral research work at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies with a thesis on the self-consistent shock acceleration of cosmic rays. He spent five years at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg where he extended his work to include plasma physics effects that have been studied in terrestrial magnetically-confined fusion plasmas. He has been a member of staff at UCD since 1996 and during that time has been a member of national and international funded programmes including the PRTLI Cycle 3 Cosmogrid project on grid enabled computational physics. He has supervised or co-supervised eleven PhD students and three postdoctoral researchers.

In the UCD School of Physics Prof Duffy currently teaches a first year course on special relativity, a second year module on mathematical methods for physicists, a final year option on theoretical astrophysics and supervises undergraduate and taught-graduate projects. He has also held a number of administrative roles at UCD.


MORGAN FRASER is an Assistant Professor in UCD School of Physics, and also holds an independent Royal Society - Science Foundation Ireland University Research Fellowship. He obtained his undergraduate degree and PhD from Queen’s University Belfast, where he worked on the identification of supernova progenitors in nearby galaxies. Subsequently, he spent a number of years as a post-doctoral researcher at Queens, and at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, before moving to UCD in 2016. Morgan's research interests span massive stellar evolution and transient astronomy. He is particularly interested in understanding pre-supernova outbursts from massive stars, and he is involved in several ongoing projects to find and study these eruptions. Alongside this, he is also a part of the international effort to identify counterparts to gravitational waves (and is a member of the team that found the first counterpart in visible light). More information on his research can be found at www.sn.ie


LORRAINE HANLON is Full Professor of Astronomy at UCD, where she did her undergraduate (BSc) and graduate (MSc and PhD) degrees in Experimental Physics. She was a research fellow at the European Space and Technology Research Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands (1991-1995) where she worked on the analysis of MeV gamma-ray burst emission with the COMPTEL instrument on-board the NASA Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. She joined the academic staff of UCD in 1996, serving as Head of the School of Physics between 2008 and 2011. Lorraine’s main research interests are in gamma-ray bursts, multi-messenger astronomy, robotic telescopes, space instrumentation and Cubesats. She is Project Lead for EIRSAT-1, a Cubesat that will be Ireland’s first satellite, being developed under the European Space Agency’s educational ‘Fly Your Satellite!’ programme.

She is Chair of the INTEGRAL Users’ Group (2018-2021), a member of the THESEUS Science Study Team, scientific advisor to the Irish delegation of the ESA Science Programme Committee and is an elected council member of the Royal Astronomical Society (2018-2021).

As CEO of spin-out company Parameter Space Ltd, she has applied her expertise from astronomy to the development of platforms and services that use satellite data. She is PI of the Watcher robotic telescope (www.watchertelescope.ie) at Boyden Observatory, South Africa and co-founder of Parity Studios, an artist in residence programme at UCD (www.ucdartinscience.com).


REBECA GARCIA LOPEZ is an Assistant Professor and Ad Astra Fellow in UCD School of Physics working in the field of star and planet formation. She completed her PhD at Rome Observatory in Italy, on a project aimed at understanding the origin of  protostellar jets. After that she spent four years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Bonn (Germany) where she became an expert in high-angular resolution observations of young stellar objects. She then moved to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies where she was awarded with a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship and a Science Foundation Ireland Starting Investigator Research Grant. She is the PI of the guaranteed time observation (GTO) program of young stellar objects with the ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI)  instrument GRAVITY, and she is the Irish representative in the ESO user's committee.

ANTONIO MARTIN-CARRILLO is an Assistant Professor in the School of Physics and Ad Astra Fellow. He graduated with a BSc and MSc in Physics with Astronomy from University Complutense Madrid. Following 2 years working at the European Space Agency as part of the XMM-Newton space observatory calibration team, he moved to UCD where he completed his PhD investigating gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and pulsars. He is currently a member of the Space Science Group studying the transient Universe and in particular the prompt and afterglow emission of GRBs using high-energy space observatories and ground-based telescopes such as UCD’s Watcher robotic telescope. His research also includes the development of software tools for advanced data analysis. As such he is an ambassador and collaborator on the Astropy project aimed at providing a wide range of software packages written in Python for use in astronomy. He is also a member of the INTEGRAL multi-messenger group searching for gamma-ray counterparts to gravitational waves, neutrino events and other transient sources; the ATHENA X-ray space observatory, an ESA large mission scheduled to launch in 2028, and the THESEUS space telescope, currently in its study phase with ESA.


SHEILA MCBREEN is an Associate Professor in the School of Physics. She completed her PhD in 2004 on the subject of the prompt emission of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) detected with NASA's Compton Gamma-ray Space Observatory. After graduation, she worked as a Research Fellow in the European Space Agency (ESA) in The Netherlands focusing on high-energy observations of extragalactic sources. In 2006, she was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship from the European Union and moved to the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial physics (MPE) in Munich. While at MPE, she joined the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) team and continues to be an active team member. The GBM is an instrument on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Her interests include gamma-ray bursts, their afterglows and host galaxies, terrestrial gamma-ray flashes and developing instrumentation for the next generation gamma-ray space mission. Sheila is a member of the EIRSAT-1 team. Additionally she was awarded a Science Foundation Ireland Career Development Award in 2018 to develop instrumentation for GRB detection using CubeSats. Additionally, she is co-founder and CTO of Parameter Space Ltd, a UCD spin-out company.


Associate Professor JOHN QUINN leads the High-Energy Astrophysics Group at UCD. He has been involved in gamma-ray astronomy for 25 over years, working originally as a member of the Whipple gamma-ray collaboration which pioneered the imaging atmospheric Cherenkov technique (IACT), and is currently a member of the international VERITAS collaboration, which operates an array of four 12m IACT telescopes in southern Arizona. Assoc. Prof. Quinn developed the data acquisition software for VERITAS and led the team which developed its data analysis software package. He has also co-chaired the VERITAS Blazar Science Working Group and in January 2018 was elected Deputy Spokesperson of the Collaboration. Assoc. Prof. Quinn is a member of the Cherenkov Telescope Array project, the next-generation IACT facility currently under construction that will be operational in the early 2020s. In addition to gamma-ray astronomy ,Prof. Quinn works in radio astronomy and is a co-investigator on the I-LOFAR project, which successfully obtained funding and installed a LOFAR radio telescope in Birr, Co. Offaly in summer 2017.  Assoc. Prof. Quinn’s research interests include studies of astrophysical relativistic jets, especially from active galaxies, galactic high-energy sources, astronomical surveys, and applications of high-performance software in astronomy.

UCD School of Physics

University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
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