UKZN Astronomer Gets Award for Research ExcellenceGeneral

UKZN Astronomer, Dr Matt Hilton.UKZN Astronomer, Dr Matt Hilton.

Dr Matt Hilton of the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) and the Discipline of Mathematics has received the 2016 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence.

The award is presented in recognition of outstanding research achievements and the earning of international reputation in the researcher’s discipline.

‘This award is a fitting tribute and recognition to one of our high achieving team members,’ said Dr Sudan Hansraj of his colleague’s accomplishment.

Hilton has nurtured a lifelong passion for science, particularly astronomy, cutting his teeth on astronomy books, magazines, documentaries and science fiction novels.

He received his degree in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Sheffield in England and then completed his PhD at the Astrophysics Research Institute at John Moores University in Liverpool.

Hilton conducted post-doctoral studies at UKZN’s ACRU from 2007-2010 before joining UKZN as a lecturer in August 2012.

Working in observational cosmology, Hilton is now studying galaxy clusters.

‘These are the most massive gravitationally-bound objects in the Universe - they are 100-1000 trillion times bigger than the Sun,’ explained Hilton.

Hilton says cosmologists use the Universe as a “time machine” - more distant objects observed reflect the Universe as it looked billions of years ago, as their light has taken longer to reach us.

In his work, the ‘ingredients’ comprising the Universe can be explored by measuring the growth of galaxy clusters over cosmic time. This includes assessing the amounts of ordinary matter, mysterious dark matter and dark energy, and even the sum of the neutrino masses.

Hilton is currently searching for galaxy clusters with the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) and doing follow-up observations of some of them with X-ray telescopes (Chandra, XMM-Newton) and with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), in order to measure their masses.

‘We also hope to observe a large sample of ACT clusters with the South African MeerKAT radio telescope,’ said Hilton. ‘This will tell us about non-thermal emission associated with the intracluster gas.’

Hilton said he was thrilled to receive the award and acknowledged the roles of several mentors including his PhD supervisor Professor Chris Collins of John Moores University, Professor Kathy Romer of the University of Sussex, Professor Chris Conselice of the University of Nottingham, and ACRU’s Professor Kavi Moodley for making his lecturer position at UKZN possible. He also credited his friends and colleagues in ACRU for making his working environment so pleasant.

Christine Cuénod