"Star Death: Cosmic Pollution and Cosmic Recycling"
Where did the Sun come from? What will happen when it dies? Where does most of the material
in the interstellar medium come from? If you thought that supernovae were the answer to all
of the above, then you're missing out on the detail. It is, in fact, the more humble stars
with masses similar to that of our Sun that account for the bulk of the material in the
interstellar medium and for the majority of the elements so essential to life (the carbon,
nitrogen, oxygen etc.). I shall show that the different lifestyles pursued by stars are
determined by their initial masses and illustrate, with examples, their different endpoints.
I shall show that some forms of pollution are beneficial and lead to recycled material such
as you and me!
I am Course Director and lecturer in Physics and Astrophysics in the School of Physics,
Trinity College Dublin, as well as a Research Associate, in the School of Cosmic Physics, Dublin
Institute for Advanced Studies. I obtained my degree in physics in Trinity College Dublin,
before working as a Scientific Officer for the UK Scientific Civil Service at the Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. After a two year spell there, I went on to obtain a PhD in
Astronomy from the Cambridge University, and obtained a Royal Society European Science Exchange
position for postdoctoral work at Leiden University, The Netherlands. Subsequent to this, I moved
to the US, working on the HST Absorption Line Key Project, and the Johns Hopkins University
Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope project. Before returning to Ireland, I worked as an Assistant
Astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in a role as Instrument Scientist with
the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).
My current research involves three main threads:
1. Study of symbiotic binary stars using a combination of space-based and ground-based instrumentation, particularly in order to use them as probes of the outer layers and winds of evolved giant stars
2. Measurement and study of the emission and absorption line spectra of active galactic nuclei (AGN), with the aim of understanding the physical properties of the nuclear region and (hopefully) how to use this information to allow us to use AGN as "standard candles" in the high redshift Universe
3. Development of emission line diagnostics for 1) and 2) above
4. Application of intelligent software to the interrogation and analysis of large astronomical databases, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Although other groups have worked with the large photometric datasets from large-scale surveys I, together with my co-workers, have been developing automated tools for analysing the large amount of spectroscopic data (10s of TB) to make the most of the detailed information contained in these surveys.
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