In 2005, Dr Jo Dunkley was an Ogden Science Teaching Fellow, bringing the universe to London schools with a series of interactive talks that she devised and delivered. Now she is an Associate Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University, and also a tutorial fellow at Exeter College where she teaches physics to undergraduate students.
My research is in cosmology and I spend much of my time analysing the Cosmic Microwave Background - light that has been travelling since just after the Big Bang. I use it to work out what the Universe is made of - much of it strange stuff in the form of Dark Energy and Dark Matter - as well as how the Universe might have begun, and how it has been growing and evolving over its billions-of-years lifetime.
I work on two large international projects, analysing data from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite, and the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile. A major goal of these experiments is to look for signatures of the very first moments of our Universe's existence, so I was very excited to see the recent results reported from the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole, which may have glimpsed gravitational waves imprinted in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, while the universe was expanding faster than the speed of light. Inflation sounds like a crazy idea, but everything that is important, everything we see today - the galaxies, the stars, the planets - was imprinted at that moment, in less than a trillionth of a second. If this is confirmed, it's huge. I will be looking for this signal in data both from Planck and a future upgrade to the Atacama experiment, and will be investigating what this tells us about the Big Bang itself.
Jo has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Fowler Prize for 2014 in recognition of her early-career achievements. The RAS acknowledges that: “Dr Dunkley has played a leading role in a number of high profile experiments measuring anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background. These include the NASA WMAP satellite, the Atacama Cosmology Telescope and most recently, the ESA Planck satellite. A key characteristic of Dr Dunkley's research is her application of advanced statistical techniques to complex data. In addition to her work on CMB anisotropies Dr Dunkley has done influential work on Galactic emission, clusters of galaxies and fluctuations in the infrared background.