Understanding Galaxy Formation and Evolution is one of the prime objectives of modern Astronomy, simultaneously driven by the availability of unprecedented observational capabilities and driving the development of the next generation of telescopes and instrumentation. Our current models of galaxy formation and evolution clearly show us where our understanding is most lacking and which are the areas where a bigger research effort is required. Two of the biggest challenges facing us are (a) detecting and understanding the observational signatures of the first powerful supermassive black holes in the Universe, and how these influence galaxy and structure build up from the earliest epochs of the Universe and (b) determining and understanding the star-formation history in galaxies, its connection to their intrinsic and environmental properties, and to the activity of the probably ubiquitous central supermassive black hole. This is where the IA team is strongest, participating or leading international efforts that are, literally, "shedding light" into our understanding of galaxy evolution throughout the Universe's History.
At the IA, we are focused on the following topics of research:
- Detect and understand the formation Super-Massive Black Holes in the early Universe (within the first 800 Myr of the Universe) and their impact on the physical properties (e.g., gas kinematics, ionization structure, star-forming activity) of their protogalactic hosts.
- Understand the secular evolution of galaxies and the buildup of their structural components, exploring the co-evolution of SMBHs with their galaxy hosts and the assembly history of the structural components of present-day Hubble-type galaxies.
- Development of tools for the interpretation of galaxy radiative output, namely performing kinematical decomposition of galaxy spectra, an improved description of forbidden line emission and a semi-empirical treatment of the dust and PAH emission at infrared wavelengths.
In order to pursue these topics, we rely on our current leading role in the definition of the next generation of deep wide-area radio surveys, to be performed with the upcoming SKA Pathfinder facilities (namely Westerbork-WODAN and ASKAP-EMU), ensuring their optimization towards the search for these highest-z AGN and direct access to their data products. We also fully explore our participation in major surveys like HiZELS, CALIFA, and UltraVISTA, and our development of state-of-the-art Spectral Population Synthesis codes, such as FADO.
Our international role in the definition and construction of recent or upcoming cutting edge instruments for ESO, allows access to the best possible observations - KMOS, MUSE and ESPRESSO, for which we have access to guaranteed time. We are also leading the construction of MOONS, a wide-field multi-object spectrograph being built for the VLT (ESO), which will be fundamental to explore the most distant Universe from 2017 onwards, and prepare for the Euclid (ESA) mission, towards the end of the decade.
Finally, the IA team also has an international recognized expertise with the use of ALMA, one of the most powerful telescopes ever built, having recently been named ALMA Centre of Expertise by ESO.