School researcher wins Royal Astronomical Society award

Dr Michal Michalowski, winner of the Winton Capital Award in astronomy
Dr Michal Michalowski, winner of the Winton Capital Award in astronomy

The Institute for Astronomy's Michal Michalowski has been awarded The Royal Astronomical Society's Winton Capital Award in astronomy.

Award citation

Dr Michałowski's main line of interest has been to study the origin of large dust masses in sub-millimetre galaxies, their evolution and their assembly into larger galaxies over time. This work has been documented in a remarkable output of well-cited publications. In another line of attack on the same problem of the evolution of the early universe, he has maintained his collaborative work on gamma ray bursts (GRBs) with researchers in Denmark, using GRBs to identify early galaxies and probe their properties. All this work has been carried out with numerous collaborators world-wide and a large range of cutting-edge observational facilities, spanning spectrum from the ultraviolet to the radio. It has been a dynamic start to a promising career.

Michal explains his work below.

I investigate the crucial component of the Universe, namely the cosmic dust residing in submm galaxies, gamma-ray bursts (GRB) host galaxies and quasars.

I found that submm galaxies contribute substantially (~20%) to the star-formation activity and the stellar mass density of the Universe, which justifies the need of understanding their nature. To reach this understanding I proved that they are not outlying galaxies in terms of star-formation properties. I also discovered that asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars, or even supernovae are not efficient enough to form dust we see in these sources, hinting at grain growth in the interstellar medium as the main dust production mechanism. This is crucial in order to learn how dust formed in the early universe. I also tested the reliability of their stellar mass estimations - an important aspect of using them to constrain cosmological models. Finally, I found indications that GRBs trace cosmic star-formation, so they can be used as an excellent tool in cosmology.

I am honoured to receive this prestigious award! The list of previous award holders includes the best young astronomers in UK, so I am happy to be among them. This award gives me both the motivation for further research and shows the value and the recognition of my work, which is so important in the academic world. Michal Michalowski