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Durham University

Research & business

A bus journey to the stars!

(11 May 2021)

Astronomy and Cosmology at Durham – Dr David Rosario

Dr David Rosario is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in our Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, Department of Physics. An Indian national, born and brought up in Qatar, he lived and worked in the USA and Germany before joining Durham in 2015. Here he tells how a short bus journey began a long-lasting relationship with Durham University.

My relationship with Durham goes a long way back, well before I moved here to take up my current position as a Research Associate in the Department of Physics.

As a fresh-faced graduate student in 2004, I visited my sister, a junior doctor in Bishop Auckland at that time. That was my first visit to the UK, and I seized the opportunity to visit one of the world’s premier astrophysics groups, just a short bus journey away from where I was staying. Some of the people I met that day remained collaborators and friends as my career progressed. In 2015, I came back to Durham as a fully-fledged scientist.

A thriving scientific ecosystem

To me, Durham University is the whole package. A lovely campus in an idyllic town, world-class academics, and all just a few hours’ drive from some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

I have the privilege of working in the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy (CEA), which, along with the other two centres and various smaller teams, comprise the Astronomy group at Durham.

We have a thriving scientific ecosystem built on some of the best resources for research, but our group is also very social: we talk together all the time, over coffee, over lunch, when we pass others in the corridors, while catching the sun on the balcony of the Ogden Centre. It’s tremendous fun! I love coming in to the office, and look forward to it again when our long isolation due to the pandemic finally comes to an end.

I work most closely with the Active Galaxies group at the CEA, particularly Professor David Alexander and his students. My work deals with the supermassive black holes that reside in the centres of galaxies. When these beasts grow by ingesting vast amounts of interstellar gas, they shine as some of the most luminous things in the cosmos - hence the term “Active Galaxies”.

My overall goal is to figure out how this gas got into these particular black holes, and how the profound amounts of energy they release can influence the galaxies that host them. From this, I hope to understand the transformational role that black holes play in shaping the nature and history of galaxies across the Universe.

This story will feature in “The Universe”, an up-coming documentary series produced by the BBC and PBS/Nova, with which I have worked closely as an expert and contributor.

Astro-geek

I’ve always been an astro-geek, the kind that wakes up at midnight to take out their telescope and look at the stars as frost collects on their eyebrows. As a Durham astronomer, I’ve been able to use some of the world’s most advanced telescopes to study Active Galaxies, a dream come true.

Recently, we have taken a long, hard look at the most well-studied type of Active Galaxy, the objects known as Quasars. We’ve identified some very puzzling and unexpected features in a minority of Quasars that, for reasons not well understood, seem to have a thin veil of dust blocking the light from their growing black holes, making them appear red.

Pursuing this trail, we have entered the wonderful world of radio astronomy: our team has published four new papers in the last two years exploring these objects using cutting-edge radio telescopes. Our best explanation is that we are seeing these red Quasars in a special short-lived phase, during which the black hole manages to blow a fast and dusty wind out into interstellar space.

Earlier this month, I also received the very exciting news that I will be lead on one of the programmes that uses the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in its first year of operation. I’d love to see our Department become a nexus of excellent JWST science in the next decade. That would be a fitting tribute to an alliance with Durham that started almost two decades ago.

Find out more

Dr David Rosario, Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy