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Public Outreach

Building a Universe with a Computer


Prof. Brad Gibson

Chair, Theoretical Astrophysics
Jeremiah Horrocks Institute
University of Central Lancashire


The formation of structure and galaxies throughout the Universe is the driving force behind billion-dollar technological developments such as the Square Kilometer Array, the James Webb Space Telescope, Extremely Large (ground-based) Telescopes, and the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite mission. I will take the audience through a tour of the formation and evolution of both the largest structures in the Universe and those closer to home, in particular our own Milky Way Galaxy. I will highlight in lay-persons' terms the physics which underpins our understanding of the evolution of galaxies, how that physics gets employed within powerful supercomputers to not only solve astrophysical mysteries, but also those ranging from climate models, to oceanography and geoscience, and medical breakthroughs; ultimately, I will demonstrate where our current work succeeds and, more interestingly, fails, in matching what we actually observe in nature.


Professor Brad Gibson is the Chair of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire, and the 2012 Kevin Westofold Distinguished Visitor at Monash University. Brad completed his MSc and PhD at the University of British Columbia, building the world's first Liquid Mirror Telescope Observatory and designing a software package capable of tracking the distribution and evolution of dozens of chemical elements throughout the Universe. Brad was responsible for using exploding stars to determine the expansion rate of the Universe, as part of the HST Key Project on the Extragalactic Distance Scale, for which the team was awarded the 2009 Gruber Prize in Cosmology. With his PhD student, Brad also discovered unequivocal evidence that the Milky Way's nearest neighbours were being ripped apart by intense tidal forces. After contributing to the establishment of Swinburne University's extragalactic research group, Brad took up the Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics in Preston. His 250 papers to date also include the identification of the locations within the Milky Way most likely to harbour complex biological life, for which his work was named by National Geographic magazine as one of the top 10 news stories of the year. His recent work has been in the marrying of his expertise in galactic chemical evolution, with complex cosmological hydrodynamical schemes, in order to model the time evolution of the chemical and dynamical properties of the Milky Way - the subject of this public lecture.