From May 5-11 I had the opportunity to visit the lovely city of Melbourne, and work with the astrophysics group at Swinburne University. My host was Michael Murphy, director of the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing. Michael was a postdoc working on quasar spectroscopy at Cambridge when I was there as a Downing Fellow nearly 10 years ago, along with his Swinburne colleague Emma Ryan-Webber. Combining their great expertise with others from the group also active in quasar absorption line spectroscopy – Jeff Cooke and Neil Crighton – and you have one of the best research centers in the world for the (somewhat) specialized field of quasar absorption line studies.
I gave a talk to the group on May 9, and explained some of the work I have been doing with Damped Lyman Alpha systems, both to detect the “floor” of metallicity in these systems, and to identify trends in the ratios of Carbon to Oxygen in the low-metallicity universe. They also were quite interested in my paper on Deuterium in DLA systems, and the group included several with actual experience working with this difficult topic and publishing similar papers. We immediately identified several areas in which to collaborate, and in particular the need for more accurate and consistent nucleosynthesis yields, which can inform studies like the ones I and Michael have been working. By bringing together the theory and observing communities – perhaps in an upcoming workshop – we can help clarify the nature of the first stars in the universe, and the imprint they leave on the clouds of gas and dust toward quasars.
I truly enjoyed Melbourne, the Swinburne astronomy group, and the friendly collegial atmosphere. I also learned from Jeremy Mould, Director of the Center of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics, that Australia and Singapore are working to create closer ties, and new exchanges for science, culture, technology and industry. I am hopeful that this can enable some closer collaboration and can help me connect to this fascinating group in the coming months and years from my location in Singapore. The combination of good bike trails, fine beer, Australian rules football and the Victoria Library all will be a great incentive to come back!