Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dancing with Galaxies

Continuing with the dance theme of my first blog, I am inspired to share my reactions to the excellent plenary talk by Lourdes Verdes-Montenegro from the Instituto de Astrofisicia de Andalucia (IAA CSIC) in southern Spain. Lourdes described how e-Science is a very essential technology for astronomers since they have to deal with large quantities of data and they study complex systems that cannot be experimented with in the laboratory. The reasons for this are very obvious, imagine trying to get a star onto the lab bench. So astronomy has to extract the maximum amount of information from the data that are gathered by observation. Hypotheses must be tested via modeling or simulation. So astronomers had to use key technical advances in optics, photography, image processing, radio signal processing and most recently the use of supercomputers to simulate astrophysical processes.

Lourdes described her work on the study of colliding galaxies. Galaxies are the huge collections of stars that can be arranged in very beautiful spiral patterns or else can look much more prosaic as elliptical blobs. A hypothesis about this range of patterns is that collisions between galaxies can disrupt the spiral structure which is caused by the motion of the gas in the galaxy and leave an elliptical core. Lourdes showed a visualization of a simulation of two galaxies colliding and this was set to some very danceable music with an distinctive Iberian beat, hence the title of this blog, "Dancing with Galaxies". She mentioned that the galaxies could be equally at home with a rock and roll or possibly ballroom beat but hopefully they dont go in for heavy metal head banging.

Lourdes then went on to describe how her activities had led her to coordinating an e-Science project to develop interdisciplinary working between scientists in Andalucia and how this network was being joined to a wider Spanish e-Science network. This effort has been sustained by a very small amount of funding which has coordinated a very enthusiastic volunteer effort. Loudes explained that this was because the researchers found e-Science inspiring and enjoyed working across interdisciplinary boundaries. Coming from the UK e-Science programme which has had a much larger funding it was rather humbling and made me think about how to promote such enthusiasm to set up networks between scientists not so far part of the e-Science networks in the UK. It also made me want to visit Granada, but thats another story.

1 comment:

Víctor Castelo Gutiérrez said...

Nice post. I know Lourdes and the way she is working and promoting the e-Science. Congratulations.