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Aerial photo of the Rubin Observatory being constructed
Aerial photo of the construction of the Rubin Observatory

A global team of scientists building the Rubin Observatory in Cerro Pachón — a remote mountain top in the Chilean Andes — has chosen a University of Birmingham cosmologist as co-chair of its Strong Lensing Science Collaboration.

Dr Graham Smith, Reader in Cosmology, has been appointed to the prestigious role.

The telescope, which is expected to become operational in the next few years, will spend a decade surveying in incredible detail the entire Southern sky. It is expected to revolutionise most aspects of astronomy research and lead to many new discoveries.

In his new role, Dr Smith will liaise with scientists from across the globe on the commissioning of the new telescope and preparations for its mission to survey the Southern sky.

Reflecting on his appointment, Dr Smith said: “I’m most excited to use Rubin to discover gravitationally lensed cosmic explosions including kilonovae, which will be the electromagnetic counterparts to gravitationally lensed gravitational waves.

"This will be a huge breakthrough because gravitational lensing will enable us to peer way beyond the horizon out to which gravitational wave colleagues at LIGO can see without help from lensing, and thus do completely new science.  Optical observations with Rubin are absolutely critical to achieving this in 2020s.

"Working with our friends and colleagues in Rubin’s Strong Lensing Science Collaboration, and the wider Rubin eco-system, my group in Birmingham is really well placed to lead this new scientific field."

Rubin’s scientific preparations are organised through eight Science Collaborations, one of which is the Strong Lensing Science Collaboration. As well as co-leading his collaboration, Dr Smith will work with other collaborations on other research specialisms.

At the University of Birmingham, Dr Smith leads the Local Cluster Substructure Survey (LoCuSS), an international collaboration whose aims include to calibrate galaxy clusters as a probe of the mysterious “dark energy” responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe.  He is also the Commissioning Coordinator for the LSST:UK Science Consortium, the body through which UK astronomers participate in the Vera Rubin Observatory and its Science Collaborations.