In November 2007, I moved from the Australian Astronomical Observatory to take up a Federation Fellow Professorship at the Institute of Astronomy, School of Physics, University of Sydney. I am a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Optical Society of America. I am co-founder and associate director of the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science (IPOS) and an active member of the Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIFA). I am a Visiting Professor of the Australia National University, Canberra and hold visiting positions with schools in France, Spain, UK and USA. For more background, see this December 2007 review in Gemini Focus or Profile of an Australian Astronomer under the web pages of the Astronomical Society of Australia. For media purposes, there is a high resolution portrait available here.
I supervise a large number of Honours undergraduate students, MSc and PhD students, and Postdoctoral research fellows. About half work in astronomy and astrophysics and the others work on astrophotonics, space photonics and quantum astronomy experiments. The astrophotonics labs are based at the School of Physics on campus although a lot of shared activity takes place at Macquarie University and the Australian Astronomical Observatory. My group retains strong links with activities at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, Potsdam; the Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland and NASA Goddard, and numerous other linkages across Asia and Europe. There are more than a dozen groups working on programs that started here at the University of Sydney. We launched our first balloon experiment in November 2012; this is to be followed by more balloons and a rocket launch. Our developments and patents are increasingly being exploited by medical and telecomm companies, remote sensing and food industries.
For web links to my research papers since 1984, astronomy papers are found here through ADS. Instrumentation papers are found here through SPIE. Optics papers are available here through www.opticsinfobase.org.
You may wish to see a review I wrote with Ken Freeman on "The Baryon Halo of the Milky Way" (Science, Jan 2000) or a related article in "Clues to Galaxy Formation" (Nature, July 1999). Both of these articles attempt to show that the time is ripe for a general convergence of far-field cosmology and near-field cosmology (cosmogony). This is a topic Ken Freeman and I explore in greater detail in our 2002 Annual Reviews article and in our 2007 Saas Fee lectures (updated 2013).
First stars, first galaxies, dwarf galaxies. After an Aspen Winter School on Local Group Cosmology in Feb 2006, Jim Peebles and I wrote an update on this topic where we discuss the idea that the most ancient stars may be hiding near the Galactic Centre and therefore will be very challenging to identify. More recently, I have written a Reviews of Modern Physics article on the chemistry of the first stars with Torgny Karlsson and Volker Bromm (2013). In collaboration with Ralph Sutherland, I am working on the evolution of dwarf galaxies in the Galactic halo and the formation of the first dwarf galaxies.
Million star surveys. Some of the most exciting developments are the huge stellar surveys under way in Australia, Europe and the USA. I am a co-founder of the RAVE survey at the UK Schmidt Telescope (Australia) which completed its last observations in early 2013. I am also a co-founder of the HERMES instrument and associated GALAH galactic archaeology survey due to start in late 2013 at the Anglo-Australian Telescope. But the most eagerly anticipated of them all is the astonishing billion-star astrometric Gaia survey from ESA which launches in 2013.
Galaxia. A major development at the University of Sydney is the Galaxia code by Research Fellow Sanjib Sharma. This synthetic framework for the Galaxy has been used extensively to understand the Geneva-Copenhagen, Segue and RAVE stellar surveys. It allows for the different surveys to be cleaned up, to be intercompared and to be compared to a theoretical framework. Parameter estimation is possible through the use of two kinds of Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques. The hierarchical and stochastic MCMC methods allow for fine (small errors, multiple solutions possible) and coarse (larger errors, full mapping of the parameter space) sampling respectively. The code also allows the stellar surveys to be compared to N-body simulations. The code is now being extended to accomodate the HERMES and Gaia surveys.
Endlessly exponential disks. Here is a series of audio files where I describe recent work on the closest disk galaxy beyond the Local Group. In 2005-2011, we presented evidence in the Astrophysical Journal that the galaxy stellar disk extends twice as far as was previously believed. Moreover, the outer disk shows a peculiar trend in the stellar abundances. Using the Gemini South telescope, we reach equivalent surface brightness levels that have never been achieved before. The full news story is available at this site.
Galactic Centre explosion. In 2003, Martin Cohen and I discovered a large-scale wind from the Galactic Centre. This preempted the marvellous Fermi discovery of the gamma-ray bubbles in 2010 over the same physical scale (+/-50 degrees!). At the time, we were unclear whether the explosion was driven by a starburst or by a supermassive black hole. But in 2013, we discovered that the Galaxy underwent a full-blown Seyfert phase just two million years ago, i.e. when Homo Erectus walked the Earth! This means that the well-established supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre (Sgr A*) was blasting bipolar jets at full power only recently in cosmic terms. Of course it's the accretion disk that swirls around the black hole that does this, not the black hole itself. This story had major press coverage in September 2013. The best description of the work is the New Scientist feature article. A link to my TV interview is given below.
My own interest in photonics (which includes optoelectronics) started in 2000 when talking to Martin Harwit about the prospects of improved space communications. We were struck by how little potential data from space missions was getting back to Earth, even allowing for data compression. In 2002, I wrote two papers on "Laser Telemetry from Space" with father and son team, Martin & Alex Harwit (Science, July 2002). The papers were adopted as a NASA white paper in that same year and a workshop was held at JPL to discuss the work. My team at the AAO formed the Centre for Space Photonics to pursue funding avenues. This led to a second NASA visit to Australia to attend the IAU 2003 where a special session was held on laser communications. In early 2006, and sooner than I had ever anticipated, a NASA Goddard team achieved the first interplanetary laser communications over a distance of 24 million km (Science, Jan 2006). With specific reference to my work, their paper describes how they used the MESSENGER satellite which is on a 6.6 year voyage to Mercury and due to arrive in early 2011. For more information, see our laser communications website.
Much of the decade after 2000 was spent exploring the use of photonics in astronomical and space instrumentation. Many papers can be accessed through www.opticsinfobase.org. Optics Express highlighted the field of astrophotonics in a special issue (12 papers) in Feb 2009; astrophotonics and space photonics were also featured in Physics Today in May 2012. The field has received special sessions at EOS (Europe) and OSA (USA) optics conferences. Some of our new technologies were tested on our first balloon experiment in November 2012; this is to be followed by more balloons and a rocket launch.
The field of quantum optics is finding increasing relevance and overlap with astronomy. The field originally grew out of Hanbury Brown's astronomical projects (Sydney, Manchester) in the 1950s and 1960s. In this respect, quantum astronomy has been with us for a long time although little has happened since the early analogue experiments. In recent years, there has been a steady rise in quantum astronomy in large part due to the prospect of single photon detection at picosecond rates (SPADs, SiPMs) and the promise of AO-assisted extremely large telescopes. At Sydney and Macquarie, we have begun to investigate photon orbital angular momentum and related phenomena.
We are currently developing or have recently developed a range of novel astronomical instruments: SAMI, Hector, HERMES, GNOSIS, PRAXIS, MOHSIS, PANDORA, nanoSPEC, i-INSPIRE and PIMMS.
Natural science 101 (1993), J. Bland-Hawthorn & A. Few [University Press]
Imaging the universe in 3D (2000), eds. J. Bland-Hawthorn & W. van Breugel [ASP]
The Galaxy disk in cosmological context (2006), eds. J. Andersen, B. Nordstrom & J. Bland-Hawthorn [Reidel]
The origin of the Galaxy and the Local Group (2013), J. Bland-Hawthorn, K. Freeman & F. Matteucci [Reidel]
Astrophotonics: an introduction to modern optics in astronomy (2014), S. Minardi & J. Bland-Hawthorn [Springer]
I have written popular articles with Gerald Cecil and Sylvain Veilleux on "Colossal Galactic Explosions" and "The Life of a Quasar" (Scientific American, Mar. 2000). We explore the topic of "Galactic Winds" in greater detail in our Annual Reviews 2005 article. You might like to see my two entries for the Encyclopaedia of Astronomy & Astrophysics (ed. P.G. Murdin): "Gas in Galaxies" with Ron Reynolds, and "Tunable Imaging Filters".
Here is my recent petition to the scientific community (Science, Aug 2006) to recognize the extraordinary advances made possible by computational science. Without them, we would still be contemplating von Neumann's stalemate of 1946. This was followed by an article "Last Days of the Lone Astronomer," a soft lament on the organization of astronomers into huge teams (Nature, Aug 2010).
2013 ABC interview with Jeremy Fernandez
2012 Channel 10 interviews with Paul Henry
2010 Astrophotonics Lecture at Rochester NY
2009 Institute of Photonics and Optical Science