Alan Duffy (astronomer)

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Alan Duffy
Duffy Skepticon 2017 11 18.jpg
Alan Duffy speaking at the Skepticon conference in Sydney, Australia on 18 November 2017.
Born 1983 (age 34–35)
Residence Australia
Alma mater University of Manchester
Spouse(s) Sarah
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy

Alan R Duffy (born 1983) is a professional astronomer and science communicator. He was born in England, raised in Ireland, and is currently based in Australia. He is a Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology, and he is the Lead Scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia.

His research is focused on using super-computers to build and test models of the growth of galaxies within vast dark matter halos, and in particular focuses on the formation of the first galaxies in the early universe during the "Epoch of Reionisation". These models aim to improve our understanding of the nature of dark matter, and the large scale properties of the universe.

Early life and studies[edit]

Duffy was born in Peterborough, England. His family migrated to Northern Ireland when he was four years old, where he attended Ballyclare High School.[1]

His undergraduate studies in physics were conducted at the University of Manchester. He incorporated periods of study in the Netherlands on an EU scholarship, working on supercomputers at Europe's oldest observatory in Leiden University, and undertook physics at the University of Amsterdam, even though he spoke no Dutch when he started.[2] He graduated with a MPhys (1st) in 2005. He completed his PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics at Jodrell Bank Observatory based in the University of Manchester in 2009, with his thesis entitled "Investigation of large scale structure in the Universe".[1][3][4]

Academic career[edit]

As Duffy was completing his doctorate, work was starting on the Australian component of the world's largest astronomical facility, the Square Kilometer Array. His doctoral work had covered similar topics, and he was invited to join the first stage of this telescope; the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). He moved to Perth, Western Australia in 2009 to take up the position at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. Three years later, he moved to Melbourne to accept an academic post as Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University Of Melbourne, where he investigated the formation of the first galaxies in the early universe.[1][3] Then in 2014 he took up the position of Associate Professor at Swinburne University of Technology, still based in Melbourne.[5][6]

Duffy's simulation of the density of gas in and around a galaxy just over a billion years after the Big Bang. New gas is arriving at too great a rate for the galaxy to convert it into stars and the gas piles up.

His supercomputer simulations have shown that in very early galaxies, the rate of star formation was not enough to consume the infalling cold gas. Earlier models had assumed this was essentially molecular hydrogen, but the model from Duffy and the DRAGONS ("Dark-ages, Reionization And Galaxy-formation Observables Numerical Simulation") consortium also accounted for atomic (non-molecular) hydrogen. As a result, there was a deficit in the amount of gas that could form stars compared to the amount flowing in.[7][8] By modelling the galaxies like an economy, Duffy was able to show that the early galaxies were in a "Great Galactic Recession". Those simulations focusing on the dark matter around galaxies demonstrate that without the dark matter, there would not have been enough time since the start of the universe for our galaxy to form.[9]

He has attempted to directly detect this dark matter as part of SABRE ("Sodium-iodide with Active Background REjection"), an international research consortium with teams in Italy, USA and Australia. SABRE is constructing the southern hemisphere's first dark matter detector 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) underground in a gold mine in Stawell, Victoria.[10][11][12] He is also part of two Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence, investigating the origin of matter (ASTRO-3D) and seeing the Universe with gravitational waves (OzGrav),[13] and he was a member of the worldwide OWLS (OverWhelmingly Large Simulations) collaboration.[14]

Science communications[edit]

In October 2017, the Royal Institution of Australia announced that it appointed Duffy as its Lead Scientist.[15]

Duffy appears regularly on ABC's Breakfast News TV, ABC Radio Sydney, ABC Radio Melbourne, Ten’s The Project, Nine’s Today Weekends and TripleJ’s Hack show, where he explains developments in science and space.[16] He writes a regular column in The Conversation[17] and the science magazine Cosmos.[18]

He has presented at TEDx in the Sydney Opera House.[19] He was the Ambassador for the Sydney Science Festival 2016,[20] and host for Famelab showcasing Australian research and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.[21] He hosted an Evening with Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the Melbourne Convention Centre, interviewed onstage Lawrence Krauss[22] as well as Brian Greene,[23] and presented in a national tour for BBC Worldwide's The Science of Doctor Who.[24] He was a featured speaker at the Australian Skeptics' national conventions in 2017[25] and 2018.[26] In 2018 he was a host of ABC's Stargazing Live series.[27]

He wrote and starred in a 2012 science documentary about dark matter, Dark. Since December 2012 he has co-hosted the YouTube series Pint in the Sky with Katie Mack,[28] and in March 2017 he started a new podcast, Cosmic Vertigo with co-host Amanda Bauer.[29] As part of Science Week 2017, Duffy and Katie Mack launched a virtual reality tour of the Universe, using custom-made headsets and a free app.[30]

Duffy's good looks have helped to attract media attention – MamaMia commented that "Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear what he was saying over the sound of his cheekbones."[31]

Personal life[edit]

In January 2016, Duffy married Sarah Clarke. He qualified as an Australian citizen in October 2014.[1]

Duffy has a keen interest in science fiction, telling the Belfast Telegraph:

Sci-fi was a big inspiration. My mum had remarried and my stepdad at the time was a ferocious nerd like me. We watched everything – Star Trek, Star Wars, all the classic sci-fi books by Asimov and Arthur C Clarke – and it opened up this world to me of all these possibilities... And, of course, Stephen Hawking's books – how could you not want to study physics? There are these incredible concepts – black holes, the universe expanding – that are so bizarre and yet are actually part of our world.[1]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2012 – He was named one of Western Australia Sunday Times magazine’s "Best and Brightest".[32]
  • 2013 – Victorian State Finalist in the Fresh Science Award for science communication.[33]
  • 2013 – Commendation in the Astronomical Society of Australia's Louise Webster Prize for "outstanding research by a scientist early in their post-doctoral career".[34]
  • 2015 – He was named as one of Men’s Style magazine’s Men of Influence in 2015, "recognising the achievements of a diverse range of Australian men under 45 years of age".[35]
  • 2015 – Commonwealth Bank’s Australian of the Day.[36]
  • 2016 – Finalist for Club Melbourne Fellowship[37][38]
  • 2016 – Finalist for the Australian Museum's Eureka Prize for promoting understanding of Australian science research.[39]
  • 2016 – Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel named Duffy an "Australian Science Superhero".[40]


As of August 2017, NASA's Astrophysics Data System (ADS) lists 29 publications by Duffy, which have 1,487 citations[41] while Cornell University's arXiv lists 31 of his papers, covering a range of topics in general astronomy and cosmology.[42]

The accretion history of dark matter haloes – in three parts:
Dark-ages Reionization and Galaxy formation simulation:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Jones, Chris (27 May 2015). "Dr Alan Duffy: Why this Ballyclare boffin has stars in his eyes". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 10 August 2017. 
  2. ^ Duffy, Alan (2 September 2016). "A Letter To My 17-Year-Old Self, By Astronomer And Astrophysicist Alan Duffy". Junkee. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Green, Sue (9 April 2016). "Stargazer teaches earthly realities". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 August 2017. 
  4. ^ Duffy, Alan R (2009). "Investigation of large scale structure in the Universe". Thesis. The British Library: The University of Manchester. Retrieved 17 August 2017. 
  5. ^ "Staff, Associate Professor Alan Duffy". Retrieved 28 August 2017. 
  6. ^ Kivivali, Lea (24 March 2014). "Astronomer Alan Duffy joins Swinburne". Swinburne news. Retrieved 2017-08-29. 
  7. ^ "The Great Galactic Recession". Cosmos. 25 July 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  8. ^ "People". DRAGONS – Dark-ages, Reionization And Galaxy-formation Observables Numerical Simulation. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  9. ^ Alan Duffy is working to solve the mystery of Dark Matter (radio broadcast). Conversations with Richard Fidler. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 9 April 2015. 19:00 minutes in. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  10. ^ "Astrophysicist Alan Duffy is mining for dark matter". Conversations with Richard Fidler. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 30 June 2016. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  11. ^ Kivivali, Lea (20 May 2016). "Swinburne researchers join the underground hunt for the universe's dark side". Swinburne University of Technology. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  12. ^ Duffy, Alan (17 September 2015). "How we plan to bring dark matter to light". The Conversation. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  13. ^ Scott, Julia (8 September 2016). "New ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery announced". Swinburne University of Technology. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  14. ^ Schaye, Joop; Vecchia, Claudio Dalla; Booth, C. M.; Wiersma, Robert P. C.; Theuns, Tom; Haas, Marcel R.; Bertone, Serena; Duffy, Alan R.; McCarthy, I. G.; van de Voort, Freeke (1 March 2010). "The physics driving the cosmic star formation history". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 402 (3): 1536–1560. arXiv:0909.5196Freely accessible. Bibcode:2010MNRAS.402.1536S. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.16029.x.  arXiv:0909.5196 [astro-ph.CO]
  15. ^ LeMessurier, Julie (9 October 2017). "ALAN DUFFY TO JOIN AUSTRALIA'S SCIENCE CHANNEL" (PDF). 
  16. ^ "Alan Duffy". ABC News. 13 November 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  17. ^ "Alan Duffy". The Conversation. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  18. ^ "Alan Duffy's author page". Cosmos magazine. 
  19. ^ "Alan Duffy". TEDxSydney. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  20. ^ "Sydney Science Festival 2016". National Science Week. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  21. ^ Samata, Cahli (5 May 2017). "The highlights of the FameLab National Final 2017". Particle. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  22. ^ "Lawrence Krauss: The Greatest Story Ever Told... So Far". Sydney Writers' Festival. 25 May 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 
  23. ^ Kivivali, Lea (8 March 2016). "Dr Alan Duffy to host evening with Brian Greene". Swinburne News. Retrieved 2017-08-29. 
  24. ^ Bochenski, Natalie (6 May 2014). "Scientists delve into Doctor Who". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  25. ^ "Skepticon". Inspiring Australia. 4 September 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2018. 
  26. ^ "Australian Skeptics National Convention 2018". Retrieved 18 August 2018. 
  27. ^ "Our Focus: Stargazing - ABC". Retrieved 17 August 2018. 
  28. ^ Pint in the Sky playlist on YouTube
  29. ^ Condie, Sarah (27 March 2017). "New podcast takes us to the dizzy heights". Cosmos magazine. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  30. ^ Kivivali, Lea (11 August 2017). "Explore the Final Frontier through the eyes of Australia's famed astronomers". Swinburne News. Retrieved 2017-08-29. 
  31. ^ Robin, Joanna (30 September 2015). "A post for anyone who just asked 'Jeez, who's that bloody hot astronomer?'". Mamamia. Retrieved 10 August 2017. 
  32. ^ "WA's best and brightest achievers". The Sunday Times. January 28, 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  33. ^ "Fresh Science 2013 state finalists". Science in Public Pty Ltd. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  34. ^ "The Louise Webster Prize". The Astronomical Society of Australia. Retrieved 27 August 2017. 
  35. ^ "Men of Influence 2015" (PDF). Men’s Style magazine. 2015. p. 112. 
  36. ^ "Our 190th Australian of the Day, Dr Alan Duffy". Commonwealth Bank of Australia. 15 December 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  37. ^ "Club Melbourne Fellowship finalists revealed". Club Melbourne. July 2016. Retrieved 27 August 2017. 
  38. ^ Kivivali, Lea (7 July 2016). "Dr Alan Duffy shortlisted for Club Melbourne Fellowship". Swinburne University News. Retrieved 27 August 2017. 
  39. ^ "2016 Eureka Prizes Finalists". Australian Museum. Retrieved 10 August 2017. 
  40. ^ "Australian Science Superheroes 2016 – Alan Duffy". Office of Australia's Chief Scientist. Retrieved 10 August 2017. 
  41. ^ "Author Query Results for Alan R Duffy". SAO/NASA. Retrieved 17 August 2017. 
  42. ^ "Search results for au:Duffy_A". Cornell University Library. Retrieved 10 August 2017. 

External links[edit]