The Nature of Gamma-Ray Bursts
Prof Shiho Kobayashi, Prof Iain Steele, Prof Paolo Mazzali and Dr Daniel Perley
The Liverpool Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) team including members at other UK Universities, in Italy, Slovenia and the US, is an internationally recognised group of scientists working at the interface between innovative theory, observation and technology development. GRBs are the instantaneously most luminous objects in the Universe, thought to be produced during the core collapse of a massive star or the merger of neutron stars and black holes. They offer unique access to regions of extreme physics - ultra relativistic speeds, strong gravity and large magnetic fields - as well as acting as luminous stellar beacons to probe conditions in the early Universe. The Liverpool GRB team uses its priviledged access to the world's largest fully autonomous robotic optical telescopes, the 2-m Liverpool (Canary Islands), Faulkes North (Hawaii) and Faulkes South (Australia) telescopes, to rapidly search for optical counterparts to bright gamma ray flashes newly discovered by gamma-ray satellites such as Swift, Integral and Fermi. The properties of the light - and its polarisation - provide unique insight into the physical properties and radiation mechanisms of the rapidly outflowing relativistic plasma that is ejected in the initial explosion. In particular, the team's novel optical RINGO polarimeters (developed by Prof Steele and his technology team), for which the team won the Times Higher Research project of the year in 2007, provide the only direct method for probing the magnetic fields that may accelerate and collimate the ejected plasma (a key unsolved problem in the study of GRB physics). Complementary theoretical development, led by Prof Kobayashi, is vital for the interpretation of new data, predictions for upcoming observations and advancing our fundamental understanding of the physics of these phenomenal objects. PhD projects are available within the team across all aspects of GRB research.