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21 December 2011
A big bang in Nottingham’s Particle Theory Group

The University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy is celebrating a bumper crop of top new research brains in its Particle Theory Group after receiving a major new grant and an unprecedented number of postdoctoral researchers on fellowships from around the world.

Space may soon be less of a mystery

The £442,000 grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, held jointly with the Quantum Gravity Group in the School of Mathematical Sciences, is for pioneering work on the cosmology of the early and late universe.

As well as securing the STFC funding for the next three years, the Particle Theory Group is bucking the trend in the current funding climate and has successfully applied for four new postdoctoral fellowships from the Royal Astronomical Society, European Union, Leverhulme Trust and a University of Nottingham Fellowship.  

Head of the group, Professor Ed Copeland, has also won a two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship to further his research into cosmic superstrings and particle physics-inspired models of dark energy. Professor Copeland said:

“Cosmic superstrings are objects that could have formed just moments after the Big Bang which brought the universe into existence. Too thin to be seen with most telescopes, the fact that the core of the strings harness the huge energies associated with the big bang means they can still affect matter surrounding them today in a way that we might be able to observe.

“One particular route that the group is exploring is through the distinct signatures they leave on the radiation present from the Big Bang. This cosmic microwave background radiation is currently being detected by a number of high precision satellites including PLANCK. A goal of the project is to provide predictions for the unique form this signature should take from the strings, so that should it be seen it will be the first indirect evidence for string theory in nature. The first PDRA appointed to the grant is Dr. Dimitri Skliros from Sussex who will be working in this area of string theory.”

The research team will also be testing whether Einstein's theory of General Relativity is really the correct theory to explain the large scale features of our Universe. The 2011 Nobel Prize for physics was awarded for work which showed that the Universe is accelerating with distant galaxies moving apart from each other with ever increasing velocities. Although such a result can be explained in General Relativity by the introduction of a form of energy known as the cosmological constant, it is very difficult to explain why the constant has the small value it seems to have -- it should be much larger.

An alternative point of view is to let gravity do the work, and modify Einstein's original theory slightly to allow for such accelerations. The group intends to do just that and see whether there are more natural explanations coming from modifying gravity.

As well as securing the STFC funding for the next three years, the Particle Theory Group is bucking the trend in the current funding climate and has successfully applied for four new postdoctoral fellowships from the Royal Astronomical Society, European Union, Leverhulme Trust and a University of Nottingham Fellowship.  

Dr Adam Christopherson from Queen Mary, University of London, has taken up the Sir Norman Lockyer Fellowship funded by the Royal Astronomical Society. Dr Anastasios Avgoustidis from Cambridge University has a Marie Curie Fellowship for early universe research. Dr Clare Burrage joins the group from the University of Geneva on a University of Nottingham Anne McLaren Fellowship. A fourth new Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust has been awarded to Dr Mattia Fornasa of the University of Granada to work with Dr Anne Green in the Particle Theory Group on creating and constraining models of dark matter.

In January the Group will welcome another lecturer, Dr Adam Moss from the University of British Columbia in Canada. Dr Moss has been appointed via the Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School scheme run jointly with the universities of Birmingham and Warwick. He will be working on understanding the nature of the primordial radiation from the early universe (cosmic microwave background) and is a member of the PLANCK satellite consortium currently measuring this radiation.

On behalf of the group, Professor Ed Copeland said: “The fact that we have been able to attract significant STFC funding and so many talented individuals from around the world on these fellowships is testament to the impact the group is making in particle cosmology, and bodes well for the future. In such a difficult climate, we have to keep alert to the various funding opportunities, and we intend to do just that.''


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