ERIS in Australia 

To finish the year, In December 2022, ERIS members managed to meet in the last country where we’re based: Australia. We had the chance to mingle and work! 

Paula Jofre, the ERIS director, travelled as part of the “Mt. Stromlo Distinguished visitor programme”, which invites researchers from abroad to visit the Australian National University (ANU). Thanks to Dr. Sven Buder, this visit might mark the beginning of new collaborations. Currently, Dr. Buder collaborates with ERIS members in the “Gaia Benchmark stars project”. In addition, he has been collaborating with us by helping our ERIS student Kurt Walsen in creating a high precision abundance catalogue for stars observed with GALAH using the data-driven method called The Cannon. 

ERIS has been for a long time interested in studying the Galaxy with phylogenetic trees by using the chemical data of GALAH. Preliminary results show however that GALAH data is not precise enough for our trees to be very robust. Therefore, Kurt has been improving the precision of the abundance measurements with alternative methods. Preliminary results from Kurt’s catalog were used by Keaghan Yaxley, another ERIS PhD student from the University of Cambridge, as part of his thesis. Keaghan successfully defended his PhD entitled “Traits and Trees” in December 2022 with a chapter called “cosmic phylogenies”. This is the first PhD chapter on this topic, and is a big milestone for our project. 

Keaghan is now a research assistant at ANU, giving us unique chances to approach the biology community as well as the astronomy community during this visit. He is working with Xia Hua, an adjunct member of ERIS, who has managed to develop a theoretical framework for chemical evolution using her unique mathematical and biological mindset. Keaghan introduced Xia to the team at the start of the Pandemic, making Xia key in the process of applying for the ERIS grant and this project overall. We are truly excited to implement her model in the near future.

Biology and astronomy close

Thanks to Keaghan and Xia, Paula was able to attend the group meeting in their lab, and meet for the first time Prof. Lindell Bromham. She wrote a seminal book in biology entitled “Molecular phylogenetics” which has served as a fundamental ground for the development of our ideas within ERIS. Prof. Bromham, excited to know that her work has served to develop research in astrophysics, invited Paula to give a talk in the Australasian Evolutionary Society meeting. Hence, our project was, for the first time, presented to an audience beyond astronomy, another very important milestone for ERIS! The next day, Paula gave a colloquium at Mt. Stromlo Observatory about this project. 

“It was amazing to see biologists excited about astronomy, and the day after, see astronomers excited about biology”, Paula comments.

Our PhD student Danielle de Brito also visited Australia. She could present her work by giving a talk, and meet other scientists in both institutions. Kangaroos were of course part of the adventure, making the trip an experience that Danielle will never forget.