FCT

Unidades de I&D

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Física

Unidade de I&D

Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto [PHYS-Norte-Porto-3] visitada em 29/01/2008

Classificação: Excellent

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
The “Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto” (CAUP) has a statutory obligation to promote and support research, training and outreach in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Two distinct strands of research activity are pursued at CAUP – Origin and Evolution of Stars and Planets and Galaxies and the Evolution of the Universe.
The CAUP and CAAUL have deliberately chosen the same group structure. This is an interesting move that should stimulate exchanges and favour the development of common investigations.

Since the previous evaluation, CAUP has continued to strengthen its research base, while maintaining its excellent and comprehensive background activities in outreach and teaching at all levels. The initiative in training Teachers of Astronomy and Astrophysics is an important development, one that meets a national need. Particularly noticeable is the increase in the number of PhD students (now 15). There is also a substantial increase in the number of postdoctoral fellows. The publications output is very satisfactory, both in number and citation record. In addition to its prominent national role, the unit has an impressive international footprint through a comprehensive network of collaborative research and shared projects. It is also proactive in the organisation of conferences/workshops and the editing of various proceedings.

Given the substantial number of PhD students now engaged at CAUP, further intensification of the research effort within the unit can be confidently anticipated over the next few years. Indeed a much expanded programme of research is the major aspiration of both CAUP’s groups over the next 10 to 15 years. In the shorter term, CAUP proposes to strengthen networks to key strategic research projects in Europe, consolidating the role of Portugal in the European Research Area. CAUP proposes to underpin this strategy through consolidation of national collaborations with other Astronomical units in Portugal. The evaluation team understands that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was drawn up some time ago between a number of Portuguese institutions, proposing closer collaboration in astronomy and astrophysics research. Given the common research themes shared by CAAUL and CAUP, time is possibly now ripe for a more formal and practical cooperation between the institutions in pursuit of excellence. The panel is very concerned about the inevitable stretching of manpower resources of already very active groups and recommends urgent remediation of the situation.

The site visit presentation was well organised, as regards administrative and technical aspects. This could have been complemented by a more detailed explanation of the unit’s specific research achievements and accomplishments in terms of intellectual background and creative ideas.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
Galaxies and the Evolution of the Universe [RG-PHYS-Norte-Porto-3-534]
Within the Unit this group addresses fundamental issues relating galaxies, galaxy formation and the evolution and structure of the universe. Although the group is the smaller of the two within the unit (7 PhD researchers together with 3 PhD students), nevertheless it has exhibited significant achievements in terms of scientific productivity since 2003. In the period 2003-2006, 49 peer reviewed journal publications attracted more than 1250 citations with a mean of 26 per paper and an equivalent h-index of 15. There is a strong international flavour to the research, with greater than 85% of co-authors based outside Portugal. Three of the groups project proposals were funded during that time and four additional projects are either funded or under review from 2007 onwards.
The strategy for research is determined by the expertise and interests of the research team which itself is focused on the international relevance and topicality of the field of cosmic structure and galaxy evolution. The major strands being pursued are the physical properties of galaxies and observational cosmology. A very important paper based on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) work, is that of Tremonti et al. in 2004. Significant additional publications have appeared during the interval 2003-2006, in journals such as MNRS, A+A, ApJ and other peer reviewed sources.
The group is now in the process of taking a long-term view of targets of opportunity that will arise over the next dozen or so years and is planning its research mission accordingly. Among the objectives are SDSS-II, XCS (a large catalogue of galaxy clusters) and the Planck surveyor instrument (anticipated launch in late 2008). In addition, the group is positioning itself to contribute to the planning and instrumentation of the VLTI Spectro-Imager project, the ARENA project, the Azores radio telescope refurbishment project and the ESO large- telescope working group. While the evaluators recognize the merit of such a comprehensive and forward-looking program of activities, it has concerns about the ability of a relatively small team to deliver such a range of activity. Without doubt, appreciable teams of collaborators will be needed and the group should seek out potential additional co-workers within Portugal.
The group also needs to plan carefully for the significant costs of instrumentation and technical development of future highlighted scientific objectives. There appears to be a significant tension concerning the funding of PhDs and possibly also postdoctoral fellows. This is a national concern that needs to be addressed at high level, if the excellent progress of the group in recent years is to be sustained and expanded by this young team of ambitious researchers
Origin and Evolution of Stars and Planets [RG-PHYS-Norte-Porto-3-533]
This evaluation relates to the Centre de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (CAUP). This first group is large (17 PhD researchers) with a program well focused on a major topic of today’s astrophysics. The number of PhD students has been steadily increasing over the years, reaching 13 in 2007, 11 with an external co-supervisor.
The group’s activity is mainly dedicated to analyses of observations made either with ground based telescopes, notably in the framework of the notorious HARPS observing campaign of ESO, or else collected with space missions, notably CoRot where the group is participating as a Co-I. This activity is complemented by contributions to the preparation of new generation instruments such as the space mission GAIA or the E-ELT (CODEX) spectrograph for the future European Extremely Large Telescope. These contributions are focused mainly on assessment of the science case and on the preparation of the data acquisition system and data processing. In addition, the group contributes to instrumentation development (in collaboration with INETI) and to spectroscopy where the group has a recognized expertise.
The total number of articles published by the group is large (36 in 2007) and scientific productivity is very good as is the relevance of its activity that is dedicated to first class investigations in astrophysics. The expertise of some of its members is well recognized by the international community.
This being said, the panel wishes to introduce a word of warning. The group is engaged in numerous projects. These projects do form a coherent set, but the panel is of the opinion that the resources are spread thin among them and that it is likely that the group’s role may be only minor in a number of cases.
Not surprisingly, the main future requirement of this group is additional human resources, both PhD students and postdoctoral students. Clearly there are a number of excellent research activities that are worthy of development and there are enough ‘senior’ members to supervise students associated with such projects. The panel also recommends that some funding be provided specifically to the enhancement of the group’s contributions to instrumentation.
The panel appreciates the group’s strong and successful contribution to outreach activities that serve school children, students and the public in general.