Eucalypt bark

David Nicholls' RSAA Pages

These are my RSAA pages, with the usual collection of bits and pieces.

A bit of biography

I started out on a course towards a career in astronomy many years ago when I was 9, when I first looked at Betelgeuse through a homemade telescope made from spectacle lenses and a cardboard tube. The next big leap forward came when I was 13 and was given a Unitron 60mm refractor for Christmas. A lovely little telescope, which, though now much travelled and a bit battered, I still have.

After my BSc (Hons) in physics, instead of astronomy, I decided to head off into upper atmosphere physics. That resulted in an MSc, but after a bit more faffing around, in the mid 1970s, a career in physics looked like a rather bleak prospect. So the life of a bureaucrat was the default option...

Now, half a career later, I'm back where I probably should have been all the time, studying astronomy.

Having cut my teeth reducing some old 74" echelle eta Carina spectra for the late Peter McGregor, and thereby being introduced to the dark art of IRAF, I undertook my thesis project supervised ably by Mike Dopita and Helmut Jerjen, on a project titled "Gas-rich Dwarf Galaxies: Evolution and Chemistry in the Local Universe". (See publications page for details.)

This all seemed like a good idea. I intended to embark on a more observationally oriented degree than my MSc. But fate intervened, in the form of La Niña (rotten observing conditions for two years), and the fact that it turned out the data reduction tools for heavy element abundances started giving bad answers. So I looked around for explanations, and it turned out that the electron energies in the gas clouds most likely aren't in thermodynamic equilibrium. This diverted my thesis work in a completely new direction, more theoretical than I'd expected, and it resolved a mystery that has plagued the field for over 40 years. See my paper on kappa distributions (publications page) for details. For this paper I was awarded the 2016 Louise Webster Prize by the Astronomical Society of Australia, in recognition of outstanding research by a scientist early in their post-doctoral career, on the basis of the scientific impact of a single research paper. What jolly fun!

My thesis was accepted on 21 July 2014. I have now taken up a post-doctoral fellowship working with Lisa Kewley, Ralph Sutherland and Mike Dopita at RSAA. I'm working on refining our understanding of the physics of ionised nebulae, using recent deep spectra from local and Magellanic Cloud nebular observations. I'm also involved with proposals for research using the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. The targets are in the deep, ancient Universe. Wheee!