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Featured New Faculty: Abby Crites

21 Feb 2020


Why did you choose U of T?  

I chose U of T because of the vibrant science being done here from theory to observation to instrumentation in particular in my field.  I love that this is an amazing community of faculty, staff, postdocs, and students thinking about different questions in astronomy and solving them in different ways with new tools that we are creating.  So far, this has been a wonderful intellectual environment where people are excited about the new ways we can make measurements and understand our universe.

Can you tell us about yourself and your past, current and future research?

I got my undergraduate degree in Physics from Caltech, my PhD from the University of Chicago, and did my postdoc at Caltech.  So, I’ve bounced back and forth from warm and cold weather!  During my PhD, my research was focused on building an instrument called SPTpol with a team of researchers to measure the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.  During my postdoc, I began working on my current project, TIME, which is a mm-wavelength spectrometer designed to measure ionized carbon in the early universe and help up better understand the epoch of reionization.  I’m passionate about developing technology and new instruments to help us better understand the early universe and the fainter these signals are the more fun it is to figure out how we can measure them!

What made you choose your current research focus?

I chose my current research because I like to try to measure things that are hard to measure and that we haven’t measured before.  I want to expand our knowledge of the universe, develop technology to do this, and then see where that technology leads us!  The epoch of reionization is when the photons from objects in the early universe began ionizing the neutral hydrogen in the universe and turned it into the universe we know today. For a few reasons we don’t know a lot about this period.  One of the reasons is that this happened about 13 billion years ago so light from galaxies and other objects from that period has traveled quite far to get to us and is faint and shifted in wavelength.  We are trying to measure the faint emission from these galaxies by looking at ionized carbon emission with a technique called line intensity mapping.

What are the big issues in your research area?

One of the very important issues in my research is the understanding of systematic errors in our measurements.  When you are measuring such faint signals any noise from your instruments or other astrophysical objects can cause effects that mimic the signal we are trying to measure.  We have to carefully remove and account for these effects. This is one of the reasons that working with other groups and collaborating as a field is so important.  We are all trying to measure similar signals with different techniques and probes and validating each other results and cross-correlating data will be very important for being certain of our results.  One of the other big issues is interpreting what our result means about astrophysics and cosmology when we finally make a measurement!  One of the reasons I am excited to be at UofT is that I have colleagues here in CITA that are making models to predict and understand what these intensity mapping measurements mean.

What is the overall importance of this project?

TIME is a pathfinder instrument that will open up a new area of observational astrophysics, ionized carbon line intensity mapping.  This will allow us to probe the epoch of reionization in a new way that is complimentary to direct detections of galaxies with things like ALMA, Hubble, and JWST.  It is also a great probe to be used in conjunction with 21 cm experiments that are also probing this same epoch.  I was a co-author on a paper for the Canadian Long-Range Plan where we discuss these two probes so if you are interested in learning more you can look here:

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like running, hiking, watching Murdoch Mysteries, reading, and hanging out with my cats.

Could tell us one fun fact about your self?

I have 5 cats.