I recently defended my PhD thesis on the migration of hot Jupiters at the University of Exeter, UK, where I worked with Prof. Frederic Pont. The thesis, entitled "The migration of single hot Jupiters: Balance of evidence tips towards dynamical and tidal evolution", was accepted with minor revisions (mainly typos). I expect graduate on the 19th July.
Planet formation theory predicts that gas giants have to be built outside the so-called 'snowline', about 5 AU away from the star (1AU = the Earth-Sun distance), where volatile materials like hydrogen, helium and methane can condense. At that distance, a planet takes at least 10 years to go around the Sun or host star. In practise, the exoplanet community has discovered hundreds of giant planets on very short period (i.e. very close-in) orbits, down to less than a single day!
My work is focussed on figuring out how they got there: there are several competing theories, and I have been contributing to the case supporting one of these: gravitational scattering followed by tidal circularisation. Planetary orbits can be unstable over millions of years, and a normal, cold Jupiter planet can get kicked inwards, onto an eccentric orbit with a short 'periastron' — the distance of closest approach to the star. Tides in the planet and star, much like the tides the Moon raises on Earth, can dissipate the energy in the eccentric orbit, and make the orbit circular. Thus we end up with a heavy planet at very short period.
I have published two papers about my work on exoplanets as first author in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomy Society:
- Orbital eccentricity of WASP-12 and WASP-14 from new radial velocity monitoring with SOPHIE
- Observational constraints on tidal effects using orbital eccentricities
I have also been second author on a third paper, which chronologically appeared in between the previous two:
I have given talks at three international conferences, two on my own work, and one on my supervisor's work:
- International Astronomy Union (Symposium 276): this conference took place in Turin, Italy. The audience was packed (~200 participants), and I spoke for about 15 mins on the preliminary results of my PhD work on the effects of tides in short period gas giants.
- Extreme Solar Systems II: this conference took place in Jackson, Wyoming (USA). This time I spoke for about 15 min front of a larger audience, (~320 participants) and presented further results from my PhD work.
- EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2011: this conference took place in Nantes, France. My supervisor was supposed to present this talk, but he was unable to make it there due to a family emergency. He provided me with his slides and some notes three days before the conference started, and I had to prepare for this talk at short notice. The main conference had over 1500 attendees, but this 10 min talk was a breakout session with about 30 people.
In addition to the above international meetings, I have a few seminars, both in Manchester and Exeter:
- Darwin's Legacy Or How to Build a Family Tree (The Galois Group): I gave this 17-min talk to about 50 members of the Physics and Maths department in Manchester.
- Transit Timing Variations: Buy one planet, get one free! (Journal Club): I gave this 30 min talk to about 15 members of the Astrophysics group in Exeter, describing how small exoplanets can be detected
- Frequentist...Bayesian...WTH????? (Journal Club): I gave this 55 min talk to about 15 members of the Astrophysics group in Exeter, mostly post-grads and post-docs. My intention was to point out the essentials of statistics to post-grads, as I feel formal training in statistics for science students is generally more confusing than useful. The feedback was encouraging, and the talk stimulated a number of discussions in the group on the merits of different approaches to statistics. The notes can be downloaded here.
- Practice talks: before speaking at the above international conferences, I have always practised my talk on the local group of astronomers in our department.
The Galois Group lecture was motivated by my passion for explaining science to people with or without formal scientific training.
I have participated in several 'outreach' events with the University of Exeter, including Stargazing Live at St. Luke's Science & Sports college' (PDF), Astronomy Open Evening 2010, Stargazing Live at Exmoor National Park, Big Bang South West and a few smaller events. I have also given several 5-15 min talks to prospective undergraduate students for their UCAS open-day visits.
In the past in Manchester, I have volunteered for two Institute of Physics events, doing 'science busking' during the Manchester Science Festival 2007: The Stradivarius Secret, and the Flash-bang physics and chemistry show.
I was also involved in the Local Organising Committee of the two Exoclimes series of conferences, each of which brought together experts from earth studies, planet science and solar system explorations. My role was mainly related to the website, on-site support with conference equipment, and amusing our guests in between talks.
My first contact with the press happened in 2000, when I had written a piece of educational software with my father. He provided the contents, and I provided the computer code to make it happen on the screen. We were contacted by the national weekly magazine Expresso (23 Jan 2000: Page 1, Page 2).
I also happened into the news again after obtaining the State of Mauritius scholarship: Le Mauricien (8 Feb 2005), L'Express (8 Feb 2005), Le Mauricien (12 Feb 2005), Weekend (13 Feb 2005), Star Page 1, Page 2 (13 Feb 2005), and L'Express (06 April 2005).
I am in the final year of my PhD studies at the University of Exeter, UK, and I will graduate in July 2013.
We returned to Mauritius in time for my secondary schooling, and I first went to Dr. Regis Chaperon SSS for Form I-V, and then moved to Royal College Curepipe where I finished my A' Levels. I graduated with three A' levels (Maths, Physics, Chemistry) and two AS levels (General Studies and French). I also obtained the prestigious State of Mauritius Scholarship, which allowed me to move to Manchester to study for an undergraduate degree in Physics with Astrophysics at the University of Manchester. I obtained a MPhys degree (jpeg), and moved to the University of Exeter to study for my PhD.
I'd sum my life up as Love, Fun, Knowledge and Optimisation.
Outside of my day job figuring out how close-in exoplanets work, I have a tremendous love of all things scientific. I am fascinated by the Universe, enthralled by the beauty of the living cell, and mesmerised by the grandeur of Nature. Even better (or worse, depending on how much you like this kind of thing), I can't stop myself babbling about it all day when I'm in the company of my friends.
I'm a firm believer in reason and evidence to guide my choices, and have spent countless hours debunking creationist (or Intelligent Design) myths in polite company.
I spend most of my free time reading books on scientific ideas, and when I do read non-science books, they tend to be science fiction novels. Primarily, I love the works of Clarke, Assimov and Banks, but I have read a few others and liked them.
Software and Web development
I have provided the technical expertise (read: hacking skills) to put together the websites http://www.exoclimes.com/, and http://www.exoclimes.org/ and I developed the code for the webcast at http://www.astro.ex.ac.uk/exoclimes/2010/dvd/Proceedings.html.
I am competent with MS Windows, Macintosh and Linux/UNIX operating systems, although I personally prefer Mac/Linux for both entertainment and work. I use the typesetting markup LaTeX for my scientific reports and papers. I build my own desktop computers, of course. I once built a small robot that can avoid walls (well, sort of).