Women of the Dark Energy Survey @ UCL

On 25 March, 2015, in Outreach, People, Science, by admin

Photograph by Boris Leistedt

In honour of International Women’s Day, in this blog post UCL women who work on the Dark Energy Survey (DES) talk about what most excites them about their research on DES!

The Dark Energy Survey is designed to probe the origin of the accelerating universe and help uncover the nature of dark energy by measuring the 14-billion-year history of cosmic expansion with high precision. More than 120 scientists from 23 institutions in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Germany are working on the project. This collaboration has built and deployed an extremely sensitive 570-Megapixel digital camera, DECam. This new camera has been mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high in the Chilean Andes.

Starting in August of 2013 and continuing for five years, DES has begun to survey a large swathe of the southern sky out to vast distances in order to provide new clues to this most fundamental of questions.

UCL hosts a large group of researchers contributing heavily to DES, and the optical corrector for the survey camera was built here. You can read more about DES @UCL here.

Left to right: Antonella Palmese, Dr Stéphanie Jouvel, Dr Hiranya Peiris, Lucinda Clerkin. The backdrop is the John Flaxman Gallery under the dome of UCL’s main library, overlaid with the CCD mosaic pattern of the DECam footprint.

DES@UCL women in their own words:

Antonella Palmese (PhD student): “DES is not only about Dark Energy. DES is much more: what strikes me the most is the fact that we can discover so many different things with it. When I joined the collaboration one year ago, I would have never expected to work on such a wide range of topics: from the distribution of mass in clusters of galaxies, to the redshifts of the galaxies, to the stars.”

Dr Stéphanie Jouvel (postdoctoral research fellow): “I’m working on photometric redshift systematics: how to get a reliable estimate of the radial distance between our galaxy and galaxies we observe in DES. Spectroscopy being time-intensive and expensive, we have to rely on some photometric bands to get a rough idea of the distance. The distance will then be incorporated in the weak-lensing mass maps or large scale clustering to understand the evolution of structures in the Universe as we go back in time.”

Dr Hiranya Peiris (faculty): “While DES was designed to uncover the secrets of Dark Energy, it is also a huge galaxy survey, mapping an unprecedented volume of the Universe with exquisite precision, so the range of DES science is immense. I am working on using DES data to test fundamental physics, but also to understand astrophysics: how do galaxies form and evolve, and how are they connected to the underlying “scaffolding” of dark matter? I am most excited about answering these questions by combining DES data with other big datasets, such as the cosmic microwave background.”

Lucinda Clerkin (PhD student): “I’m looking at the relationship between dark matter and the stuff that we can see, using galaxies observed by DES along with reconstructed mass maps from weak gravitational lensing. This relationship is an important ingredient in calculations of the make-up and evolution of the Universe, and therefore in figuring out what dark energy is – or indeed if it exists! I’ve also been lucky enough to spend an awesome week observing for DES at the Blanco telescope in Chile.”


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