Anna Scaife: Nanodiamonds sparking around distant stars
Anna Scaife (MPhys Bristol; PhD Cambridge) is Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester, where she is head of the Jodrell Bank Interferometry Centre of Excellence, and holds the 2017 Blaauw Chair in Astrophysics at the University of Groningen. She is the recipient of a European Research Council Fellowship for her research group’s work investigating the origin and evolution of large-scale cosmic magnetic fields, and leads a number of projects in technical radio astronomy development and scientific computing as part of the Square Kilometre Array project. In 2019, Anna received the Jackson-Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, awarded for advances in astronomical instrumentation and techniques. As well as scientific research, Anna runs two training programs that provide bursaries for students from Southern Africa and Latin America to pursue graduate degrees in the UK focusing on Big Data and data intensive science. In 2014, Anna was honoured by the World Economic Forum as one of thirty scientists under the age of 40 selected for their contributions to advancing the frontiers of science, engineering or technology in areas of high societal impact.
Talk: Nanodiamonds sparking around distant stars
Tiny diamond crystals only a few atoms across are now thought to be the source of an enigmatic form of astrophysical radiation known as anomalous microwave emission (AME). AME was an unexpected discovery during the 1990s, where it was detected as a large scale foreground contamination of the cosmic microwave background. Astronomers quickly concluded that the anomalous emission was generated by rapidly rotating dust grains, but the question was: what kind of dust grain? At first we thought it might be produced by a tiny dust grain, the size of a large molecule, called a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), but measurements looking for a correlation between PAHs and AME in our Galaxy came back negative. However, new observations looking at dust in the planet-forming disks around young stars produced a startling result; some of these dusty disks showed evidence for AME – but only the disks that were also known to be filled with nanometre-sized diamonds. I will talk about how we made this discovery, what a nanodiamond is and how you make one spin, and where we go from here.