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Physics PhD graduate's thesis gains global recognition

Published: 3 June 2020
PhD graduate Peter Boorman
PhD graduate Peter Boorman wins international Springer Theses

A Southampton Physics and Astronomy graduate has received global recognition for his thesis with the award of an international prize.

Peter Boorman, who completed his PhD studying supermassive black holes, has won the Springer Theses accolade which is given to the best PhD theses from around the world.

The Springer Theses recognise the work of PhD students by collecting and publishing the best PhD theses from around the world in all physical sciences.

The winners get the opportunity to publish a book - containing their full thesis - with an international publisher, which helps them gain recognition for their research early in their career.

Internationally top-ranked universities nominate their best theses in chemistry, physics, Earth sciences, engineering and materials science from the last year, and the winners are chosen for their scientific excellence and wide impact.

Peter's thesis focused on his research into the supermassive black holes located at the centre of galaxies outside the Milky Way - some of the most extreme systems that exist in nature. These black holes are capable of emitting light across the full electromagnetic spectrum and are the only opportunity for people to probe such experiments on Earth.

He said: "These systems are very challenging to study, so I use NASA’s X-ray facility - the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope ARay (NuSTAR) - that greatly enhances my ability to explore the most obscured growing supermassive black holes in our cosmic neighbourhood. I have already discovered a large population of heavily obscured active galactic nuclei (AGN) that have never been observed or detected previously.

"I am delighted to have been awarded the Springer Theses, when I first found out I couldn’t believe it. My experience writing up my thesis was quite stressful both personally and academically, so I am thrilled to receive recognition for it. I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr Poshak Gandhi, for his support during my studies and also for nominating me for the Springer prize."

Peter, who did his MPhys Physics degree at Southampton, followed in the footsteps of his parents who also studied at Southampton. Since graduating he has worked at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, in Prague, continuing his research into supermassive black holes, and will soon start a fellowship at the University of Kyoto with a world-leading X-ray astronomy group where he will investigate how the next flagship X-ray space telescope from JAXA, known as the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), can study hidden supermassive black holes in exciting new ways.

He says his collaboration at Caltech - the California Institute of Technology - during his studies opened his eyes to his area of research. He said: "The expertise at Caltech was very linked to the PhD I was doing and it is the head institute for the NuSTAR X-ray satellite that I used extensively throughout my PhD. The team there provided a vast amount of expertise from the inner workings and operations of the satellite, to extracting useful science data from observations and ultimately being able to interpret the scientific results from the data."



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