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Research Areas

Researchers at UC San Diego are at the forefront of many exciting fields of astronomy, ranging from the nearest stars and exoplanets to the very beginnings of the Universe. Our work is achieved through observational, instrumental, theoretical, and numerical methods, using the most advanced facilities on and off the planet.

  • Cosmology: UC San Diego researchers investigate the origins of the universe by developing advanced technologies and building new instrumentation to study the cosmic microwave background, through exploration of big bang nucleosynthesis through observations of quasar absorption line systems. Theoretical research examines the linkage between advanced physics (quantum field theory, string theory) and the early formation and evolution of the Universe. Advanced cosmological simulations are used to actualize these theories and predict observational tests. Lead faculty: Kam Arnold, Michael Norman, and David Tytler.
  • Galaxy Formation & Evolution: Observational studies of galaxies at a wide range of redshifts allow UC San Diego researchers to explore the formation and evolution of galaxies and the supermassive black holes at their centers. Hydrodynamical simulations are used to investigate the physics of galaxy formation and feedback into the intergalactic medium. Lead faculty: Alison Coil, Dusan Keres, Michael Norman, and Shelley Wright.
  • Star Formation & Interstellar Medium:  UC San Diego researchers conduct observations across the electromagnetic spectrum to study star formation and the properties of the interstellar and intergalactic medium. High-resolution observations of stars in young clusters with large telescopes enable study of the star formation process up close. Lead facultyQuinn Konopacky, Karin Sandstrom, and Chris Theissen.
  • Stars, Exoplanets, & Astrobiology: UC San Diego researchers use the most advanced observing facilities to find and study the properties of the nearest stars, brown dwarfs, and exoplanets; and use large datasets and machine learning methods to study various Galactic populations. In addition to searching for potentially habitable worlds, UC San Diego researchers develop advanced instrumentation to search for signals from extraterrestrial intelligent life (SETI). Lead faculty: Adam Burgasser. Quinn Konopacky, Chris Theissen, and Shelley Wright.
  • Solar & Plasma Astrophysics: UC San Diego researchers conduct theoretical investigations of magnetic dynamos, accretion processes, and turbulent plasma flows, that are used to understand both astrophysical phenomena (solar flares and weather, X-ray binary jets) and fusion energy generation. Lead faculty: Pat Diamond
  • High Energy Astrophysics:  UC San Diego researchers study the most explosive events in the Universe through X-ray and gamma-ray observatories, including supernovae, black hole binaries, and quasars. Lead faculty: Steve Boggs