In summary

  • Two Swinburne astrophysicists have been awarded Australian Research Council (ARC) 2022 Future Fellowships
  • Associate Professor Ivo Labbe is finding the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang using the $14 billion James Webb Space Telescope
  • Professor Darren Croton will create supercomputer simulations of several billions of galaxies to uncover new knowledge about our universe

Two Swinburne astrophysicists have been awarded Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships amounting to over $1 million each.

The four-year Future Fellowships support mid-career researchers to undertake high quality research in areas of national and international benefit, such as cybersecurity, energy, resources and advanced manufacturing.

Swinburne’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Karen Hapgood, was quick to share the achievement.

“Congratulations to our two newest Future Fellows, Professor Darren Croton and Associate Professor Ivo Labbe – both from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing,” said Professor Hapgood.

“Swinburne is proud to be an engine room for research excellence and innovation in astrophysics and aerospace, boasting internationally competitive research infrastructure on campus including the Australian James Webb Data Centre and Swinburne's recently upgraded supercomputer. It is wonderful to see our world-leading Centre for Astrophysics recognised for the impact of their ground-breaking research."

Shining a light on the first stars and galaxies

It has already been a big year for Associate Professor Labbe, who was one of the few researchers globally to secure precious time in the first observation of the A$14 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). With the first data sent back in July, it is no surprise that Associate Professor Labbe was able to impress with out-of-this-world research.

“JWST is already turning out to be a true discovery machine, showing us the early Universe is very different than expected,” he said.

“Perhaps the most exciting part to me is the potential to discover things we have not even imagined yet.”

His project, ‘Uncovering the First Stars and Galaxies with the James Webb Space Telescope’, aims to find the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.

Understanding the astrophysics of the first galaxies, their explosive growth and how they set ablaze the remaining gas in the Universe have long been among the most important unsolved mysteries of astronomy.

Decades in the making, the launch of JWST marked a watershed moment. This project uses privileged access to the revolutionary space telescope to find ‘First Light’ and contribute to rewriting the first chapter of our cosmic history. It is expected to significantly enhance Australia's reputation in space science.

Associate Professor Labbe was awarded $1,055,476 for the project.

Delving further into a recent discovery

Quiescent galaxies are those that have lived a long and full life and are in the process of dying or are long since dead; ancient relics made up of billions of old stars. They are rare but familiar in the local Universe and well-studied.

In contrast, distant early-Universe massive quiescent galaxies are a surprising recent discovery, with some such galaxies having taken just a billion years to somehow become what took their local counterparts the Universe’s entire 14-billion-year history.

Unravelling how such exceptional galaxies came to be is the focus of Professor Darren Croton’s project, ‘The many lives and deaths of high redshift massive quiescent galaxies’, which saw him awarded a $1,055,476 Future Fellowship.

At the core of this project is the unique combination of high-performance computing, software engineering and sophisticated data analysis techniques. We expect to see Professor Croton develop novel and improved supercomputer simulations of several billions of galaxies processed through a virtual observatory, which will provide tools and fundamental knowledge for observational, theoretical and computational astrophysics around the world.

“It’s an exciting time for theoretical astrophysics,” said Professor Croton.

“Using Swinburne’s OzStar supercomputer and its 2023 next-generation upgrade Ngarrgu Tindebeek ("Knowledge of the Void"), these simulations of massive quiescent galaxies will allow us to explore their origin and entire history in unprecedented detail. We will be able to answer the questions “how?” and “why?”, something even the world’s best telescopes can’t do.”

This year, the ARC provided $94 million in funding to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers.

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