Head of Discipline - Physics
BSc (Hons) PhD (Tas)
|Contact Campus||Sandy Bay Campus|
|Telephone||+61 3 6226 7588|
|Fax||+61 3 6226 2410|
I am an Associate Professor in Physics and Radio astronomy and Head of Discipline for Physics. My major areas of research are in the formation of massive stars, in particular through the study of methanol masers and other molecular maser species. I am also involved in research in AGN (active galactic nuclei) through very long baseline interferometry, flux density monitoring and circumnuclear water maser studies.
I am involved in teaching at all levels of the physics major. I am the first year coordinator for physics and teach the dynamics/mechanics and special relativity sections of KYA101. I take the lecture/theory component of KIT212 Games Physics. I teach the second year thermodynamics components of KYA212. I also teach the third year advanced electromagnetism unit KYA320 and some of the atomic and nuclear physics unit KYA323. Additional learning resources for all of these courses are available via MyLO.
I currently supervise 3 PhD students with astrophysics related projects in star formation.
Recent publications as first (lead) author:
A complete list of my refereed publications is available here (Courtesy of the NASA Astrophysics Data Service)
last updated August 2014
I received my PhD from the University of Tasmania in 1996. I was appointed as a lecturer in physics in 2000, promoted to senior lecturer in 2005 and to Associate Professor in 2010
I am a member of the Australian Institute of Physics, a member of the International Astronomical Union and a Fellow of the Astronomical Society of Australia.
In the last 10 years I have been a chief investigator on 5 successful ARC projects (2 Discovery, 1 Special Research initiative, 1 LIEF, 1 Super Science) which have received total funding of more than $1M. Details of research funding in the last 10 years :
My primary research interest is in the study of the formation of high-mass stars, particularly through radio astronomy observations of methanol masers. High mass stars form in regions of dense gas and dust which completely obscures them from view at optical wavelengths. Fortunately radio frequency radiation passes through the gas and dust unhindered. Interstellar masers are naturally occurring radio frequency lasers, which are often associated with newly formed large stars. The fundamental aim of my work is to measure the physical conditions, such as temperature, density and pressure around from observations of the masers in order to understand important questions such as how planets form. Recently I have been working on using the presence/absence of various interstellar maser species/transitions as an evolutionary clock for high-mass star formation regions. I am a member of the international methanol multibeam collaboration, which used the Parkes radio telescopes to survey the entire Galaxy for methanol masers to undertake the first complete census of high-mass star formation in our Galaxy. I am the lead investigator of a large project with the Australian Long Baseline Array to make trigonometric parallax measurements towards 30 southern methanol maser sources to trace the spiral structure of the southern Milky Way.
Other active research interests including studying active galactic nuclei through observations of interstellar scintillation (ISS). This is where the interstellar medium causes intensity fluctuations in some distant radio sources (analogous to the twinkling of stars caused by the Earth's atmosphere). By tracing changes in the timescale of the intensity fluctuations throughout the year it is possible to make inferences about the AGN on microarcsecond angular scales (factors of 10-100 better than can be achieved through any other current technique). Our program to observe interstellar scintillation in AGN with the Ceduna radio telescope received an Engineering Excellence award from Engineers Australia.
I have also used observations of methanol emission and absorption to test whether some of the fundamental constants of physics have changed over the lifetime of the Universe. In particular, observations of absorption in two different rotational transitions of the methanol molecule in the gravitational lens system PKS B1830-211 have shown that the ratio of the mass of the proton to the mass of the electron has changed by less than 1 part in 10 million over the last 7.2 billion years (Ellingsen, S.P. et al. 2012, Astrophys. J., 747, L7). Recently I detected the first class I methanol masers outside the Milky Way, towards the starburst galaxy NGC253 (Ellingsen, S.P. et al. 2014, Astrophys. J., 790, L28). Detection of other class I methanol masers in more distant sources may open a new and powerful method for testing for changes in the fundamental constants of physics.
Authorised by the Head of School, Physical Sciences
19 January, 2015