Research

Our team work together to understand the diverse family of planetary climates. Using a suite of numerical tools in 1D, 2D and 3D, covering a range of complexities, our focus is understanding the key physical processes which control the climates of exoplanets, and how these processes behave in different planetary environments. Our work is interdisciplinary, joining researchers from Astrophysics, with Earth System Science, and collaborating closely with the Met Office. Our modeling framework includes the Unified Model (UM) of the Met Office, with the associated radative transfer code SOCRATES, as well as chemical equilibrium and kinetics codes, and land-surface models. We also use the ATMO code, whose development is led by Pascal Tremblin (please contact Nathan Mayne or Pascal Tremblin for more information).

Members

Nathan Mayne

Nathan was responsible for first adapting the Met Office model to exoplanet atmospheres, with James Manners, Chris Smith and David Amundsen. Nathan is an expert in exoplanet climates, focusing on dynamics.

Dr. Ian Boutle

Ian is an atmospheric scientist with primary interests in clouds and turbulence. Working from the Met Office and University of Exeter, Ian is interested in the climate and habitability of Earth-like exoplanets, and the effect of clouds on hot-Jupiter atmospheres.

Dr. James Manners

James specialises in the modelling of radiative transfer in planetary atmospheres, working both from the Met Office and the Exoplanet group at Exeter University. He is the lead developer for adaptations to the Met Office model involving radiative transfer, orbital configurations, and simulated observations for exoplanet atmospheres.

Dr. Éric Hébrard

Expert in chemical modelling of planetary atmospheres, Eric has been studying very different environments, covering a broad range of physical and chemical conditions, from the deep chill of our outer Solar System through the hazy skies of our own early Earth to the blaze of the most recently discovered hot Jupiters. In Exeter, he is involved in the development and improvement of multidimensional chemical models of planetary atmospheres. Noticing the overlap of conditions (pressure, temperature, composition) between the atmospheres of hot Jupiters and car engines, he has contributed to the release of chemical models which successful bridges applied combustion and astrophysics. He has also contributed to the measurement of temperature-dependent VUV absorption cross sections, which are rare but essential data to model photochemical processes in atmospheric models. Finally, he has been responsible these past few years for a new and original strategy for evaluating and insuring both the accuracy and precision of models of these sometimes peculiar planetary atmospheres. It brings new insights into the way chemical models of planetary atmospheres can - and must! - be used.

Dr. Hugo Lambert

Hugo is an Earth atmospheric scientist with expertise in large scale climatology and the hydrological cycle. He is interested in understanding the atmospheres and climates of terrestrial exoplanets using a range of simple and complex models.

Dr. Duncan Christie

Duncan is an astrophysicist interested in exoplanetary atmospheres and star formation. With Nathan, he is investigating how assumptions about atmospheric mixing in cloud models impact the atmospheric structure of hot Jupiters and the associated observational diagnostics. Building upon work done by Dr. Stefan Lines, now at the UK Met Office, this involves coupling the EddySed cloud code to the UK Met Office’s UM global climate model and performing a suite of simulations covering the relevant parameter space. Previously, Duncan has worked on atmospheric escape from hot Jupiters as well as on non-ideal magnetohydrodynamics in the early stages of star formation.

Dr. Maria Zamyatina

Maria is an atmospheric chemist with a background in meteorology. She recently obtained her PhD, where she explored the global and localised impacts of the chemistry of a group of important reservoirs of reactive nitrogen, alkyl nitrates, on the composition of the Earth’s troposphere. She worked with a global 3D chemistry-climate model UM-UKCA, implementing new alkyl nitrate chemistry and oceanic and biomass burning emissions and validating the model against aircraft observations. As a postdoc in the Exoclimatology group, she investigates the chemical composition of hydrogen dominated gas giant exoplanets, with a focus on high altitudes, where photodissociation and photoionisation determine the atmospheric composition of such exoplanets.

Dr. Denis Sergeev

Denis is an atmospheric scientist passionate about exoplanet atmospheric dynamics, microphysical processes, and the habitability of terrestrial planets. Coming from a meteorological background, Denis investigates the atmospheric convection on Earth-like planets using high-resolution simulations of the Met Office Unified Model.

Mark Phillips

Working with Isabelle Baraffe, Mark is developing a grid of brown dwarf atmospheres using the ATMO code. This grid will be used to investigate how thermo-chemical instabilities arising from dis-equilibrium chemistry may shape the spectral evolution of brown dwarfs.

Simon Lance

Simon is a PhD student working with Dr. Matthew Browning and Nathan utilising the open source code Dedalus to study interior convection of stars and gas giant planets. They are ultimately working towards attempting to couple these interiors to a radiative atmospheric layer.

Robbie Ridgway

Robbie is a second-year PhD student working with Nathan, James, and Hugo. Robbie is using the Met Office UM to study the effects of star-planet interactions, particularly the influence of stellar flares and coronal mass ejections on the evolution and composition of terrestrial exoplanetary atmospheres and their effects on climate. He completed a BSc in Astrophysics at the University of Calgary, Canada. Before coming to Exeter, Robbie finished a MSc in Space Physics at the University of Calgary, Canada, under the supervision of Dr. Brian Jackel, looking at the use of satellite magnetometers to remotely determine the density structure of plasma in the dayside terrestrial magnetosphere.

Michelle Bieger

Michelle graduated in 2018 with an MPhys at the University of Hertfordshire. Her dissertation examined lidar results from South Korea, where mixed dust and pollution travels from China. Whilst at Hertfordshire, she worked on summer projects, including one with Dr Ben Burningham on his atmospheric retrieval framework, Brewster, which is what inspired her PhD at Exeter. Since graduation she has worked at the Institute of Physics. In 2019 she began her PhD with Eric, investigating the radiative and photochemical processes in the atmospheres of exoplanets through the lense of forward modelling and retrieval tools.

Jake Eager

Working with Nathan Mayne, Tim Lenton and Éric Hébrard, Jake will be investigating the limits of the life and environment co-evolution on Earth and exoplanets by extending the ExoGaia model, developed by Arwen Nicholson. Jake’s masters project, supervised by Nathan, investigated the effect stellar type has on the habitability of tidally locked Earth like exoplanets. Jake spent a summer project using the ISCA framework to research the effect rotation rate has on equator-to-pole heat transport.

Krisztian Kohary, Research IT Office (Astrophysics)

Krisztian is responsible for the maintenance and development of the UM code on our local development and High Performance Computing (HPC) facilities at Exeter and elsewhere (DiRAC, Leicester). Krisztian works on the UM part time devoting the rest of his time to other Research IT tasks within the Astrophysics group.

Paul Palmer

Paul is an atmospheric physicist who is heading up the adaptation of the UKCA atmospheric chemistry for exoplanet modeling with the UM, at the University of Edinburgh. His two key science questions are: 1) How does atmospheric composition affect the habitability of Earth-like exoplanets? 2) How does orbital configuration affect the atmospheric composition of Earth-like planets?

Former Members Include:

  • Dr Ben Drummond. Ben investigates the atmospheric composition of hydrogen dominated gas giant exoplanets. Understanding the gas phase chemistry is crucial in determining the dynamical and thermal structure of the atmosphere as the composition determines the opacity, mean molecular weight and heat capacity. In addition, to predict the chemical properties of the clouds that may form in such atmospheres we must first understand the chemical makeup of the gas from which those cloud particles condense. In particular, Ben focuses on improving the consistency between the tightly-coupled dynamical, radiative and chemical processes in both 1D and 3D atmosphere models. This has led to the development of a new set of flexible chemistry routines within the Met Office Unified Model, including a chemical equilibrium scheme, a chemical relaxation scheme and a chemical kinetics scheme. At the moment, these new schemes are being applied to study the effect of wind-driven advection on the carbon chemistry (CH4 and CO) of hot Jupiter atmospheres. Ben is currently in a permanent position at the UK Met Office.
  • Dr Jayesh Goyal. Jayesh develops forward models to interpret observations of exoplanet atmospheres. He primarily focuses on developing and improving radiative transfer computations in the model, along with the generation of opacity database. He has developed a grid of forward model transmission spectra and equilibrium chemistry for a range of exoplanets, which can be used to plan observations using HST, JWST and various other telescopes, along with interpreting existing datasets. Jayesh is currently in a postdoctoral position at Cornell University.
  • Dr. Stefan Lines. Stefan coupled the DIHRT and Eddy Sed cloud codes to the model framework.
  • Dr. David Skalid Amundsen. David adapted the SOCRATES radiative transfer code to high temperature regimes, with James Manners.
  • Dr. Wolfgang Hayek. Wolfgang wrote the original version of the ATMO radiative transfer code.

Papers

Outreach

Many of our group members are passionate about communicating the science and research we do to the wider public, and some examples are below.

In the summer of 2020, we were pleased to have been involved in providing educational materials for students. This included a virtual lesson developed with Professor Justin Dillon at the Graduate School for Education at the University of Exeter, as well as an adapation of one of our Nature Communications articles with the Physical Science Journal for Kids, transforming this peer-reviewed journal article into a format optimised for younger students. This article can be viewed here.

Denis Sergeev constructed this wonderful image as an entry into the Exeter Science Centre Science as Art gallery.

We also work with the VFX company Engine House and At Bristol to produce a series of scientifically informed animations of exoplanet environments, and a mini-documentary style video. Below are the 4K and 8K 360 degree animations, and links to the documentary. If you would like to use these please credit Engine-House, We The Curious (formerly At-Bristol), the University of Exeter, Nathan Mayne and additional members featured in the link descriptions.

Animations without audio:

Starfield, 4K
Young Giant planet in a debris disc, 4K
Evaporating hot Jupiter, 4K
At ~1mbar within the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter, 4K
A Super-Earth, waterworld, 4K
55-Cancri e, lava planet, 4K
Trappist-1 e, habitable planet? 4K

Animations with audio:

Starfield, 4K
Young Giant planet in a debris disc, 4K
Evaporating hot Jupiter, 4K
At ~1mbar within the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter, 4K
A Super-Earth, waterworld, 4K
55-Cancri e, lava planet, 4K
Trappist-1 e, habitable planet? 4K

A full mini-documentary, Listen to UoE, features scientists Dr.Elisabeth Matthews, Dr. David Sing, Dr. Stefan Lines, Prof. Nathan Mayne and Dr. Jessica Spake, speaking about what it would be like to visit these exotic worlds, and exploring them in 4K and 3D:

Or view the non-360 version here (download link):

Additionally, Nathan Mayne and David Sing, working with Phil Gurr, created a series of videos explaining concepts from the world of exoplanet research; these are available on the links below.

"What is an exoplanet?"
"How do we find exoplanets?"
"What can observations tell us about exoplanets?"
"How can we use models to explore exoplanets?"
"How to determine if exoplanets might host life."

Nathan Mayne also presented a TED talk as part of the "Time and Tide" event in Truro; this can be viewed here.


Our most recent visual offering is a more 'cinematic' experience here.


Dr. Nathan Mayne

I am a member of staff at the University of Exeter within the Astrophysics Group. I also oversee the undergraduate admissions and the first year of our course (if you want to apply to study Physics here drop us an email: ug-ad-phys@exeter.ac.uk)

Research:

My group and I are working to try and understand the bewildering diversity of exoplanets that have been discovered over the recent decades. The discovery of planets outside our own solar system marked a huge step forward towards answering the question of whether we are alone in the galaxy or universe! Our research is aimed at contributing to this huge question, but also to connect what we learn from exoplanets with studies of our own changing climate here on Earth through working with the UK Met Office. Of course, the diversity of exoplanets has also presented a huge number of challenges to our understanding of how planets form and evolve, which we get to explore along the way!

My research goals are summarised in a recent TEDx talk I gave about "Searching for Life in distant planetary systems" I also wrote an article for "the conversation" titled: "How looking into space can help our understanding of climate change on Earth". The department also has a Physics@Exeter youtube channel (setup by Natalie Whitehead), through which you can learn more about the departments teaching and research. Finally, I regularly supervise PhD projects within my field of research, which are generally advertised on our group pages.

About Me:

I grew up in Camborne in Cornwall on a small farm, and much of my youth was spent surfing, playing sport or finding interesting ways to injure myself. At school I always enjoyed complex problems, although I spent most of my early life trying to deny this or cover it up!

I never owned a telescope and had no idea what a degree or PhD really was, but I did have a lot of books about space and space exploration. Strangely, I never wanted to be an astronaut, or work out how the rockets worked. However, I was always fascinated at how a huge range of environments across our universe could be realised maintaining the same underlying principles-Physics! Of course, I really would not have phrased it like that back then, probably more like: hmm planets and stars are cool. I went to school at Pool School and Community College, and completed my A-levels there too, before taking a year out working in a DIY store and travelling within Europe.

At University, in Exeter, I really started to realise (towards the end of the course) that I was in fact a whole and actual geek. It took a while to come to terms with, but I gradually realised the potential for Physics, and astrophysics in particular to provide a steady stream of unsolved, hugely complicated problems! I completed an Mphys degree specialising in Surface Plasmon Polariton working with Prof. B Barnes, then took at year out working for 6 months at the University of Exeter Sports Park then travelling for the remainder of the year to Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. After this I completed a PhD on stellar ages with Prof. T. Naylor, before working with Prof. T. Harries on radiative transfer. Finally, I found a home working on planetary atmospheres with Prof. I Baraffe, before becoming a lecturer and leading my own group in this field.

Wiki

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