November 1, 2012
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Dear Prospective Graduate Student,
Star formation is one of the critical processes that drives galaxy evolution in the local universe. Yet the underlying physics of the dependence of the star formation process on the properties of the interstellar medium, which provides the fuel for star formation, remains poorly understood. The structure of the interstellar medium itself can in turn be affected by the presence of star formation, through heating, ionization, and shocks, leading to a complex interplay and exchange of energy and matter between gas and stars.
My work involves all aspects of observational star formation and the molecular interstellar medium, both in our own Galaxy and in other galaxies. My recent work with my students and postdoc includes: a large survey of nearby luminous infrared galaxies to understand star formation in extreme environments; a survey of the dense molecular gas in a sample of nearby spiral galaxies to determine the gas mass and and star formation efficiency and how they vary from one galaxy to another (with former postdoc Brad Warren); studying the critical phase in the formation of a massive star when its ionizing radiation starts to present a barrier to continued accretion (with Pam Klaassen, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the ALMA regional center at Leiden University); and measuring the mass function of massive clumps of gas in several nearby molecular clouds to try to understand the earliest phases of massive star formation (with Mike Reid, currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto).
I am the only radio astronomy faculty member at McMaster and I also have experience working with data at optical and infrared wavelengths. I'm also the Canadian Project Scientist for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA is a large international collaboration involving Europe, North America, and Japan and is currently under construction in northern Chile. ALMA will make its first science observations sometime in 2011. In addition to observing with ground-based telescopes like the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and the Submillimeter Array (SMA), I'm also involved with the Herschel Space Observatory, which launched in May 2009. I'm currently leading two large surveys of nearby galaxies, one with the JCMT and one with Herschel, as well as a survey of more distant luminous infrared galaxies to study more extreme environments. All three surveys have lots of scope for graduate students to get involved.
I currently have 3 Ph.D. students working with me, Tara Parkin, Max Schirm, and Kaz Sliwa and two M.Sc. students, Damien Robertson and Jonathan Newton. I do not plan to take on any new graduate students in fall 2013, although co-supervision with another McMaster faculty member is a possibility. I like to start new M.Sc. students on a project for which I have the data already. I have lots of possibilities for M.Sc. projects at the moment, such as studying the dust content of nearby galaxies to measure how the gas content varies with galaxy type or using Herschel observations to study the earliest phases of low mass or massive star formation in a nearby molecular cloud. With Ph.D. students, I like to give them time to define their own project and I don't worry too much if it takes a year or so to settle on a project and start taking and analyzing data. My Ph.D. students often do a lot of observing and rapidly reach the point where they are doing all their own observations. There is a lot of scope for potential Ph.D. projects in the surveys I'm involved with, or you can define your own project from scratch.
Please feel free to contact me if you think this is a research area you might be interested in or if you have any other questions.