SAM MORRELL


ASTROPHYSICIST

About Me

I am a postgraduate observational astrophysicist, currently working in the astrophysics group at the University of Exeter. Under the supervision of Professor Tim Naylor, my PhD project involves understanding fundamental parameters of low-mass stars. Previously, I completed an MPhys, also at the University of Exeter, studying the way that interstellar dust interact with light, an effect known as extinction. My colleagues and I developed an improved, composite extinction law that allowed us to reliably remove extinction from observations.

As well as research, I teach, do outreach, play music, and get involved in a load of other projects. Please read on to find out more.

Research

My current research involves understanding the fundamental properties of low-mass stars. Despite the fact that these stars the key ingredients to the modern slew of exoplanet discovery and characterisation missions, they are still remarkably poorly understood. Using cutting edge observations from the second data release of the Gaia mission, and photometry from a multiwavelength collection of wide area surveys, we are working on trying to understand what we do and don't understand about the physics that drives them.

Of particular interest to me is understanding the  apparent radius inflation in this class of star when compared directly to a model of equal luminosity. This discrepancy is commonly noted in M dwarf stars at all stages of evolution, but there still remain some important open questions:

  • How large is the radius discrepancy between these stars and the models?
  • Is the effect in some way linked to convective inhibition, driven by stellar magnetic fields?
  • Can the effect be described entirely by star spots and photospheric opacities?
  • What is the underlying physics driving this divergence from models?
  • What is the true effect of this discrepancy on star- and planet-formation timescales?

We are currently working on publications in this area and they will be shared here when they are avaliable.

Teaching

One of my passions has always been to pass on knowledge to others. Throughout my PhD I've been fortunate enough to be involved in a load of undergraduate teaching. This includes:

  • PHY2026: Practical Physics II - I've worked in the astrophysics lab as a demonstrator for the past 3 years. This is a hands on role in the lab helping students complete their astronomy related experiments. In this module, I'm responsible for helping to deliver the photometry experiment using IRAF, as well as the radio astronomy extended experiment. I am also involved in marking lab reports and giving feedback to students. 
  • PHY2027: Scientific Programming in C - This year I've been fortunate enough to be a demonstrator for the delivery of the lab portion of the C programming module in the physics department. In this role I am responsible for both helping students write code and marking and feedback. I enjoy this module as it allows me to combine my two passions; physics and programming. 
  • PHY1029: IT and Astrophysics Skills - I've also been a demonstrator for the first year astrophysics module, which involves delivering an intensive 6 week course of experiments involving specialist IT software, such as IRAF and DS9. This involves weekly marking, so speed and consistency is key.
  • Observing Supervisor - This is one of my favourite parts of undergraduate teaching. In this role we get to take students out to the university observatory and give them practical, hands on observing experience. This year I've been designated observing leader for most of the sessions I've taken, which means I'm directly responsible for the welfare of other staff and students while observing. It requires patience, due to the fantastic British weather, but there have been some sensational views from the telescope. 

Throughout my PhD, I've been taking part in teacher training in the form of the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LTHE) stages 1 and 2 course. I completed the assessment for this course in 2017, earning me an associate fellowship of the Higher Education Academy / Advance HE (AFHEA). 

Outreach

I firmly believe in engaging people with the exciting world of physics and astronomy. Involving people and making an impact in society is a key part of that. I try to be an active part of the outreach effort of the department, both through representing the group at events, and more recently by producing online content. I have been involved in several Big Bang South West events, as well as several Sidmouth Science Festivals and a variety of stargazing events, both with and without telescopes. 

Recently, I've been working with other members of the department to produce high quality, weekly videos for our Physics at Exeter YouTube channel. Please do go over and subscribe if you'd like to keep up-to-date with what we're working on. 

Music

Playing live with the Soul Traders, proudly toting replica BMG Red Special in hand.

I've been playing guitar for nearly 15 years, with spatterings of bass guitar, piano and drums in between. I've played for several bands over the years, including Down to Earth and Bon Amis. Currently, my main band is Soul Traders, a 13-piece soul outfit. When I'm not playing with them, I can be found depping with other bands in the area. Recently, I've been standing in on guitar for ska band, The Embezzlers. I'm equally comfortable both on and off stage. I hold an A-level in music technology and feel most at home in Logix Pro X. I have produced a variety of material over the years, including some of my own work and albums by my guitar teacher, Ruth Harry.

One of my proudest musical moments is playing a Soul Traders gig at the Gala dinner at the Star Formation 2016 conference in Exeter; a peculiar case of two disparate world colliding and producing something amazing!

Education and Employment

  • 2011 - 2015 - MPhys Physics with Astrophysics (Hons) - University of Exeter
  • 2015 - Present - PhD Physics (Astrophysics) - University of Exeter

Memberships

  • 2011 - 2016 - Student Member of the Institute of Physics (IOP)
  • 2015 - Present - Member of the UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS)
  • 2016 - Present - Member of the British Humanist Association (BHA)
  • 2016 - Present - Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS)
  • 2017 - 2018 - Associate Member of the Institute of Physics (AMInstP)
  • 2017 - Present - Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA)
  • 2018 - Present - Member of the Institute of Physics (MInstP)

Other Positions