Hi! I am a faculty member and Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin fellow based at the University of Nottingham. I research into the first stars to light up our universe, and I love sharing my excitement in my science outreach. I have written a book! Buy it! One more thing… I’ve done a lot of work on gender equality and especially harassment in higher education. Less fun, but probably more important.
You can find me on Twitter: @DrEOChapman
The Universe has a lot to tell us and, so far, we have not been paying attention. Our daytimes are bright with sunlight, obscuring the starlight of the surrounding galaxy. Tune in to the longer wavelengths of light though, and the Universe lights up, the intensity of the radio emissions dwarfing that of the local Sun. Optical astronomy has always stolen the headlines, producing iconic images taken with space-bound legends of observational astronomy such as the Hubble Space Telescope. But what are we missing by focusing only on what our eyes have evolved to see? What is waiting for us in plain sight?
My research is in the era of the first stars. The first stars! The first stars ever! Man, I still get goosebumps. 400 million years after the Big Bang the Universe appeared dark and empty as it slowly expanded. Suddenly the first stars formed, lighting up the Universe and forming the galaxies we see today. This era has never been observed and constitutes over a billion year gap in our knowledge – equivalent to missing everything from birth to entry to school. It is a time full of exotic astrophysics such as stars one hundred times the mass of our Sun, dark matter and baby black holes. These first objects gave out heat and light, making bubbles in the surrounding hydrogen gas that we will observe for the first time using radio telescopes. How these bubbles are shaped and how they grow will tell us how those first stars and black holes were born, lived and died. With radio telescopes such as the Square Kilometre Array, consisting of 130,000 antennas in the Western Australian desert, we will look back and observe that missing billion year period, answering many burning questions but also with any luck creating some more, because, who doesn’t like a mystery? (And a job. I need to have something to do.)