The Synoptic Radio Lab works with wide-field, radio-wavelength sky surveys to establish new ways to observe the Universe. These include developing the technique of hydrogen intensity mapping for rapidly surveying large volumes of space, and exploiting the recently-discovered phenomena of fast radio bursts (FRBs) as probes of the Universe’s contents. This work includes creating digital instrumentation for radio telescopes, developing algorithms for analyzing observational data, and making theoretical predictions for the signals we should be looking for.
Large-scale structure—the distribution of matter on scales much larger than galaxies—can be used to study almost all aspects of the Universe’s evolution, from the detailed physics of its birth, to the present-day acceleration of its expansion. The technique of hydrogen intensity mapping will enable sensitive, three-dimensional surveys of the large-scale structure over large volumes of the Universe, thus enabling measurements with unprecedented precision. A key focus of our lab is work with state-of-the-art hydrogen surveys such as CHIME to overcome the technical and data-analysis challenges inherent in the technique.
Fast radio bursts are brief and energetic flashes of radio light coming from distant galaxies. Since the first FRB was observed in 2007, it has been an open question as to what are the sources of FRBs and how are such bright bursts of radio waves created. We work not only to understand this mysterious phenomenon, but to exploit it as a probe of the Universe. Due to their unique properties, each FRB carries a record of the material it has travelled through between its source and our telescopes. As such, we can capture this information, aggregate it across large samples of observed FRBs, and use it to understand the contents of the Universe.
Common to both these lines of research is the need for novel, digitally-driven instruments that have both the power to survey large swaths of the sky, and the flexibility to observe in the unique modes that enable our science. For example, detecting fast radio bursts requires both high spectral resolution and millisecond time resolution, whereas hydrogen intensity mapping requires precise instrument calibration and exquisite instrument stability. We develop innovative solutions to these problems using closely integrated telescope hardware and software, often pushing the boundaries of what is possible with current technology.