Prof Bob Nichol is a Director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) at the University of Portsmouth. He is an observational cosmologist and experimental physicist who has worked on the Sloane digital all sky survey.
You may have recently seen him in the BBC Horizon programme “Dancing in the dark – The end of physics”
Many thanks to Bob for answering the 15 Q&A……
If you could go back in time and meet any scientific figure, what period would that be and who would you like to meet most?
BN– Edwin Hubble and sit in the room when he and Slipher made the first Hubble diagram (obviously not called that at the time) and watch their faces!
Do you have a favourite constellation?
BN– Orion as it’s easy to find!
WASNET– Yes, great target for beginners, lots of interesting features. Watch out for Betelgeuse this red giant may be going supernova soon…..
What do you regularly observe?
BN– Supernovae and other astronomers.
What do you specialise in?
BN– I am a jack of all trades and a master of none. I love working in different fields with different people. For now, I’m focusing on supernovae and using them to measure the expansion history of the universe.
Who influenced you most to take up astronomy?
BN– My mother
What advice would you give to a beginner just starting out?
BN– Be passionate about what you do. You can learn most things along the way, but you will get nowhere without energy, drive and passion.
The Drake equation,N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi * fc * L , attempts to estimate the number of possible civilizations in our universe, Is there life out there….?
BN– Sure, the odds are stacked in its favour. If every star in every galaxy has a planet, seems crazy to think we are the only ones in the Universe. That said, I think it’s near impossible to communicate with them.
WASNET– We probably won’t be visiting them either due to the vast distances involved.
What is the best part of being an astronomer and the worst?
BN– Using very large telescopes! The worst is dealing with some very pedantic people.
If you could visit anywhere in the universe where would that be and why?
BN– I’m happy on earth looking up.
WASNET– There is no place like home, the pale blue dot…
What gadget do you find indispensable as an astronomer?
BN– The internet, so you can find anything in the rush at the telescope.
WASNET– The internet (WWW) has its roots in physics with Tim Berners-Lee and CERN.
During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries our understanding of the universe has taken huge leaps forward. Which discovery do you think had the greatest impact?
BN– The discovery of the accelerating expansion rate of the universe using supernovae. I fear this conundrum will be with us for many decades.
We still only know what 5% of the universe is composed of normal matter, What about the other 95%?
BN– It’s dark!
What future discovery are you looking most forward to?
BN– Dark matter. It must be there and they must see it soon in the direct experiments. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to Euclid and the deep HST imaging over the entire extragalactic sky.
WASNET– Cosmologists have invoked the concept of dark matter and energy to explain the accelerated expansion of the universe, but the nature of these dark components remains one of the most pressing questions facing modern cosmology. Euclid is scheduled to launch in 2020 and will map the shape, brightness and 3D distribution of galaxies to hopefully get a handle on how dark matter shapes the universe.
What book would you recommend for our WAS members to read on cloudy nights?
BN– Simon Singh’s book on the Big Bang and anything by John Gribbins.
WASNET– John Gribbins has been a prolific writer so plenty of good reading material to choose from.
As a stranded desert island astronomer you are allowed to take three things with you, what would they be?
BN– My family, my house and lots of food a drink.