Professor Stephen Smartt

Royal Society Research Professorship for Professor Smartt

Astronomy and astrophysics

Professor Stephen Smartt, Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, has been awarded a prestigious Royal Society Research Professorship. Research Professorships are the Royal Society’s premier research awards that provide long-term support to world-class researchers of outstanding achievement and promise, enabling them to focus on ambitious and original research of the highest quality.

Professor Smartt is a global pioneer in the field of digital, time domain sky surveys. He discovered some of the Universe’s most luminous supernovae and played a leading role in the discovery and physical understanding of the first electromagnetic counterpart to a gravitational wave source. He acts as the UK project scientist for the Rubin Observatory, the largest survey telescope ever built that will constantly survey the southern sky, delivering the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) over a ten-year period.  

His research aims to combine discoveries in the transient electromagnetic sky with data from the advanced gravitational wave detector network to discover kilonovae, produced when black holes and neutron stars collide, and use them as cosmological probes. His rapid data collection team will work with data from the Rubin Observatory, simultaneously with a new suite of instrumentation at the European Southern Observatory, to identify the most extreme, short-lived astronomical explosions and determine their redshifts, distances and energies. This will probe physics in extreme environments, the origin of stellar mass black holes and neutron stars, and how the heavy elements are created.

‘I am delighted and honoured to be awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship,’ comments Professor Smartt. ‘It will provide me with the time and resources to work within a number of international science teams. We aim to bring together signals from high energy events from the next generation of survey facilities on the ground and in space. As we constantly survey the sky on a daily basis, it is essential we react quickly to new phenomena. My role is coordinating international teams and multiple telescopes on the ground in Chile, South Africa, Hawaii and the Canaries. Finally, we will use the James Webb Space Telescope when we locate the sources of gravitational waves from the ground. I enjoy working within, and coordinating, international science teams, full of talent and ideas and the Research Professorship will provide me with the time to react quickly to the Universe’s most energetic events.’