Institute of Astronomy

Dr Susannah Alaghband-Zadeh


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Office: KAVLI K06
Office Tel: 46429
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I am a research fellow at Peterhouse working on Sub-Millimeter Galaxies (SMGs) and Reddened Quasars.

During my PhD I worked on tracing the evolution of SMGs to probe the origin of extreme star formation in the Universe.

Rapid Star Formation in the Distant Universe: Some of the most extreme star formation in the Universe occurred 3 billion years after the Big Bang, in a population of galaxies enshrouded in dust. The ultra-violet (UV) radiation emitted from the young massive stars in these systems is reprocessed by the dust and emitted at far-infrared wavelengths. Since the radiation we observe from these galaxies was emitted 10 billion years ago it is redshifted to longer wavelengths. This results in the emission from these galaxies being detectable with sub-millimeter telescopes and therefore giving rise to their name: Sub-Millimeter Galaxies (SMGs). The intense star formation (creating approximately 1000 solar masses per year) and large reservoirs of gas available to fuel the star formation in SMGs means that they can grow rapidly, creating a massive galaxy in only 100 million years.  SMGs are therefore interpreted to be an immensely active phase in galaxy evolution, which could seed the growth of the massive galaxies observed in the present day Universe.

Triggering the Extreme Star Formation:  Galaxy simulations predict that two galaxies merging together could cause such an ultra-luminous burst of activity in the SMGs. One of the themes of my PhD thesis was the investigation of the potential triggers. This has only been made possible in recent years with the development of integral field units, which provide spectra as a function of position within a galaxy. Spatially resolving the properties of the gas allows for studies of the morphologies and dynamics of the systems, enabling a test of the hypothesis that SMGs are made up of multiple colliding galaxies.

Are Merging Galaxies the Trigger: The hydrogen Halpha spectral line is emitted from regions where hydrogen is ionized by hot young stars and therefore traces the star-forming gas. I mapped this emission line within the SMGs to gain spatially resolved information about the star formation intensity and the velocity and dispersion of the gas. I have established that the gas in the SMGs is disturbed and turbulent, tracing multiple interacting components. This provides evidence that the SMGs are merging systems and therefore the merging process could trigger the intense star formation.

Fueling the Star Formation:The advent of telescopes capable of millimeter interferometry has enabled transitions of the carbon monoxide molecule to be observed in SMGs, providing tracers of the molecular gas - the fuel for the rapid star formation – in the same detail as the ionized gas. The atomic carbon fine structure lines, which originate from the cooling gas and therefore trace the SMGs’ cold gas reservoirs, can also be observed in this way. The luminosities of the carbon monoxide and atomic carbon lines can be used to constrain the physical conditions of the gas in the interstellar medium of the SMGs by comparison to the outputs of molecular cloud models.  Through this comparison it is possible to constrain the gas densities, temperatures, elemental abundances and radiation fields. I have found, through this analysis, that the SMGs are most similar to local ultra-luminous galaxies however there is a tail towards lower densities and radiation fields, more similar to local starburst galaxies, providing evidence for extended star formation in some of these systems. This implies that 10 billion years ago the processes causing the extreme luminosities may have been very different from today.

The Next Stage in the Evolution: In models of galaxy formation, the massive ultra-luminous infrared starburst galaxies and optical quasars are linked through a merger driven evolutionary sequence. The merger triggers the extreme  star formation and also drives accretion onto a central black hole. As the starburst decays the gas and dust is clearerd from the system leaving behind a UV luminous quasar. A prediction from galaxy evolution simulations is the existence of a dust-shrouded quasar phase representing the transition of the massive starbursts to UV luminous quasars - the 'blowout' phase. I therefore study a sample of reddened quasars, looking for evidence of on-going star formation and constraining the star formation distribution within the systems. This enables a study into how the central black hole affects the star formation (positive or negative feedback) and also allows one to identify the merger stage at which this transition occurs.

Selected papers

  • Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Chapman, S. C.; Decarli, R.; Ivison, R. J.; Meijerink, R.; Smail, Ian; Swinbank, A. M.; Van der Werf, Paul P.; Walter, F.; Weiss, A., Using [CI] to probe the interstellar medium in z ~2.5 sub-millimeter galaxies, 2013, MNRAS accepted, eprint arXiv:1307.6593
  • Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Chapman, S. C.; Swinbank, A. M.; Smail, Ian; Harrison, C. M.; Alexander, D. M.; Casey, C. M.; Davé, R.; Narayanan, D.; Tamura, Y.; Umehata, H., Integral field spectroscopy of 2.0< z<2.7 submillimetre galaxies: gas morphologies and kinematics, 2012, MNRAS, 424, 2232, eprint arXiv:1205.545
  • Bothwell, M. S.; Smail, Ian; Chapman, S. C.; Genzel, R.; Ivison, R. J.; Tacconi, L. J.; Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Bertoldi, F.; Blain, A. W.; Casey, C. M.; Cox, P.; Greve, T. R.; Lutz, D.; Neri, R.; Omont, A.; Swinbank, A. M., A survey of molecular gas in luminous sub-millimetre galaxies, 2013, MNRAS, 429, 3047, eprint arXiv:1205.1511
  • Banerji, Manda; McMahon, Richard G.; Hewett, Paul C.; Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Gonzalez-Solares, Eduardo; Venemans, Bram P., Heavily Reddened Quasars at z~2 in the UKIDSS Large Area Survey: A Transitional Phase in AGN Evolution, 2012, MNRAS, 427, 2275, eprint arXiv:1203.5530
  • Harrison, C. M.; Alexander, D. M.; Swinbank, A. M.; Smail, Ian; Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Bauer, F. E.; Chapman, S. C.; Del Moro, A.; Hickox, R. C.; Ivison, R. J.; Mullaney, J. R.; Nesvadba, N. P. H., Energetic galaxy-wide outflows in high-redshift ultra-luminous infrared galaxies hosting AGN activity, 2012, MNRAS, 426, 1073, eprint arXiv:1205.1801
  • Banerji, Manda; Chapman, S. C.; Smail, Ian; Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Swinbank, A. M.; Dunlop, J. S.; Ivison, R. J.; Blain, A. W., Luminous starbursts in the redshift desert at z~1-2: star formation rates, masses and evidence for outflows, 2011, MNRAS, 418, 1071, eprint arXiv:1108.0420
  • Casey, C. M.; Chapman, S. C.; Smail, Ian; Alaghband-Zadeh, S.; Bothwell, M. S.; Swinbank, A. M., Spectroscopic characterization of 250-μm-selected hyper-luminous star-forming galaxies, 2011, MNRAS, 411, 2739, eprint arXiv:1009.5709


  • Research Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge (2013-present) working on Reddened quasars and SMGs as probes of galaxy evolution.
  • PhD in Astronomy (2009-2013), Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. College: Trinity Hall. Supervisors: Prof. Scott Chapman and Prof. Paul Hewett. Thesis: Tracing the evolution of Sub-Millimeter Galaxies
  • MPhys in Physics and Astronomy (2005-2009), 1st Class (Honours), Durham University. College: University College. 4th year project supervisor: Prof. Richard Bower. 4th year project: Galaxy Properties in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
  • Summer research project (Nuffield Bursary), Durham University, 2008. Supervised by Prof. Richard Bower and Dr. Jim Geach on a Galaxy Cluster finding algorithm for use on the data arriving from PanSTARRS.
  • 3rd year research project, Durham University, undergraduate, 2008. Determining the properties of an eclipsing binary system.
  • Summer research project, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, California, 2007. Supervised by Dr Carl Pennypacker working on Hands-on Universe project.
  • Gap year research project, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, California, 2005. Supervised by Dr Carl Pennypacker working on the modeling of Type 1a Supernova measurements.


PhD in Astronomy (2009-2013), University of Cambridge

MPhys in Physics and Astronomy (2005-2009), 1st Class (Honours), Durham University

Awards and Prizes

  • Research Fellowship from Peterhouse, Cambridge
  • STFC Studentship to undertake PhD at University of Cambridge (2009-2013)
  • Nuffield Bursary for summer research project at Durham University (2008)
Page last updated: 6 June 2014 at 14:15