Dominic Fordaffiliated with the university, PhD, BA MSci

Research

Dominic Ford is a postdoctoral researcher at Lund Observatory in Sweden. I am the lead software engineer on the data analysis pipeline for the Milky Way surveys that the 4MOST multi-object spectrograph will carry out.

I have a particular interest in machine-learning techniques for analysing astronomical spectra, which may be the only feasible way to process the tens of thousands of spectra that 4MOST will observe every night.

Prior to moving to Sweden, I worked as a freelance science communicator in Cambridge, UK. I run many websites, including:

  • In-The-Sky.org – a guide to what's visible in the night sky, which automatically tailors the information it provides to wherever you happen to live on Earth.
  • ScienceDemos.org.uk – a collection of interactive science demos.
  • Pyxplot – A graphing and vector graphics package which I wrote in 2008–2012. It is available in the Ubuntu package archive.

Some of my other projects include:

  • The Observer's Guide to Planetary Motion – My book, which describes much of the science behind how In-The-Sky.org does its calculations.
  • MeteorPi – a fun project which ran from 2014–2016 in collaboration with Cambridge Science Centre. I was the lead developer for a network of motion-sensitive security cameras which we set up to triangulate the three-dimensional trajectories of shooting stars, satellites and aircraft. We used Raspberry Pis to do the real-time image analysis, running astrometry.net to precisely determine the direction each camera was pointing, and a GPS receiver to determine their positions. This project is currently dormant, but I'd like to restart it one day. The code needs a lot of cleaning up, but is all available on GitHub.

Going back in time, some projects I worked on long ago include:

  • Naked Astronomy – Between 2012 and 2014 I worked for the Naked Scientists in Cambridge, where I produced the STFC-funded podcast Naked Astronomy. I also spent one day a week in the newsroom of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, acting as a science advisor.
  • Square Kilometre Array – Between 2007 and 2012, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, investigating how easy it would be to use Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) to build a correlator for the SKA. In short, GPUs are a complete pain to use!
  • PhD Thesis – I was awarded my PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2008, where my supervisor was Prof Paul Alexander. Paul and I built a model of the infrared spectra of dusty star-forming galaxies, which were being observed in large numbers at that time by Spitzer. My thesis title was A Semi-Empirical Model of the Spectra of Dusty Galaxies.