+44 (0)191 334 3652
r.j.massey [at]
Nationality British
Date of birth 14 October 1977
4 ( )
3 ( )

Research overview

The night sky contains a huge amount of stars, galaxies and dust. Everything we see is made of the same basic "baryonic" material as our bodies, the air we breathe, and the computer that you're looking at. We understand it fairly well. However, mounting evidence from several sources now agrees that this is only a few percent of the total amount of stuff in the Universe.

Six times as much mass is in the form of invisible "dark matter". This interacts with ordinary baryons only through the force of gravity. It does not interact through electromagnetism, and therefore neither emits nor reflects light. It can be seen only indirectly — for example, because its additional gravity makes galaxies rotate faster than otherwise possible. One potential candidate for dark matter is the least massive of the (as-yet unobserved) supersymmetric particles.

Three times more common than dark matter is the even more mysterious "dark energy". This acts as a repulsive force on very large scales, in a tug-of-war against the attraction of gravity. The universe has been expanding since the Big Bang, but dark energy is now accelerating that expansion. Its properties will eventually decide the fate of the universe.

Unfortunately, almost all current scientific knowledge concerns only the (few percent) baryons. The extra ingredients are challenging our fundamental theories of particle physics and General Relativity. I'm currently focussing on the nature of dark matter, mainly via the indirect effect of "gravitational lensing". As with any new frontier, the first thing to do is to map it out and look at the lie of the land.

See also a list of papers I've published.

Research career

2012 → present    Durham university, Institute for Computational Cosmology: Royal Society University Research Fellow
(also a Visiting Associate in Astronomy at CalTech and Affiliate at NASA JPL)
  • Principal Investigator of HALO-UK consortium, partners (and $0.75M contributors) in a NASA balloon-borne optical telescope.
  • Manager of the CTI mitigation work package for the ESA Cosmic Visions Euclid satllite mission, including simulated and laboratory-based evaluation of non-linear effects in optical CCDs and near-infrared detectors.
2008 → 2011    Royal Observatory Edinburgh: STFC Advanced Fellow
(also a Visiting Associate in Astronomy at CalTech and Affiliate at NASA JPL)
  • Principal Investigator of HALO-UK consortium, partners (and $0.75M contributors) in a NASA balloon-borne optical telescope.
  • Member of Euclid Tiger Team to ESA.
  • Manager of the CTI mitigation work package for the ESA Cosmic Visions Euclid satllite mission, including simulated and laboratory-based evaluation of non-linear effects in optical CCDs and near-infrared detectors.
  • Core (coordination) team of the GREAT08 and GREAT10 interdisciplinary Pascal challenges.
  • Co-Investigator of NASA OMEGA satellite concept.
  • Observational search with HST for colliding objects similar to the bullet cluster.
  • Physics of galaxy clusters, including feedback and magnetic fields in the ICM and merger dynamics.
  • Comparison of gravitational lensing cluster surveys to optical, x-ray and SZ data.
  • Post-SM4 CTI characterisation and correction in HST/ACS.
  • Analysis of Pan-STARRS survey.
  • Design and development of web 2.0 "papyrus" tool for browsing academic publications.
2007 → 2008    California Institute of Technology: Senior Postdoctoral Scholar
  • Principal Investigator of NASA-funded programme to ameliorate CTI problems with the HST ACS camera due to radiation damage, in preparation for shuttle servicing mission SM4. Also seeking to mitigate similar effects in the planned NASA/DOE JDEM satellite.
  • Extension of shapelets methods to analyse the non-linear gravitational signal, flexion, and coordination of the FLIP simulation programme.
  • Measurement of the density and mass function of galaxy clusters, via a wide-area weak lensing survey with the Subaru telescope.
2004 → 2007    California Institute of Technology: Postdoctoral Research Scholar
  • Weak gravitational lensing analysis of COSMOS, the largest ever survey with HST. My resulting map of dark matter appeared in the Guiness book of World Records, London Science Museum, Japanese National Science Museum, New York Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere.
  • Principal Investigator of the international STEP2 programme. For the first time, this brought together all weak lensing reasearch groups worldwide, and optimised methods for the precision measurement of galaxy shapes.
  • Lead developer of shapelets image manipulation and analysis method. My accompanying software package now has many users worldwide. As well as weak lensing, it has also been applied to problems in such diverse fields as sunspot analysis, galaxy morphology evolution, chemical molecular structure, biological cell networks, brain lesions in neuroscience, and other pattern recognition.
  • Lead developer of astronomical image simulation software. This is the mainstay of the mission simulation and optimisation tool for the SNAP satellite project (of which I have been a member since 2002), and the basis of the STEP programme.
  • Modelling HST's focus to provide a physical explanation of, and a workable solution to temporal variation in the optical Point Spread Function of the ACS camera.
2000 → 2003 Cambridge university, Clare college: PhD
1996 → 2000 Durham university, University college: MSci Mathematics and Physics

Teaching and other professional activities

2012 Stand-in lecturer for one week of Durham University 1st year physics (100 students).
2008 → 2012  Lecturer (1/3) for University of Edinburgh Physics 1A undergraduate course (250–320 students).
2009 → 2011  Workshop supervisor for Applied Maths for Physicists undergraduate course.
2007 → 2008 Lecturer of postgraduate course on gravitational lensing at CalTech and Edinburgh.
2007 Invited lecturer at SLAC Summer Institute.
2002 → 2004 Teaching assistant for undergraduate physics at Clare college, Cambridge.

Prizes, telescope time and research grants awarded

2012 Philip Leverhulme Prize (£70,000)
2011 Royal Society University Research Fellowship (£534,750)
2007 PPARC Advanced Fellowship (£524,546)
2000 PPARC PhD Studentship
2000 Durham University Chalmers prize (for top mark in undergraduate class)

I have acquired major imaging surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope, Keck II, Subaru, WHT and Chandra. I have obtained smaller amounts of spectroscopic follow-up time on the VLT, Gemini, Keck I and Subaru telescopes. Through various projects, I have also accumulated observing experience on the AAT, UKIRT, and the UK Schmidt telescopes.

Additional grants not associated with telescope time include:

2012   PI of UK Space Agency standard grant (£212,000)
"Euclid Implementation Phase: Charge Transfer Inefficiency"".
2011   1 of 3 Co-Is on UK Space Agency standard grant with P.I. Andy Taylor (£35,000+£31,000)
"Euclid:UK" (two extensions).
  1 of 20 co-Is of Royal Observatory Edinburgh STFC Consolidated Grant with P.I. John Peacock
"Astronomy and Astrophysics at Edinburgh".
2010 Principal Investigator of Edinburgh University sustainability grant (£91,000 plus matching funds from UKATC+Durham University)
  Principal Investigator of UK Space Agency work package, part of Cropper et al. below (£31,697)
"CCD radiation damage mitigation".
  Co-Principal Investigator of NASA HST grant AR-12144 with P.I. Priya Natarajan ($65,000)
"Probing the relationship between mass and light by combining shear with flexion".
  1 of 28 co-Is of UK Space Agency standard grant with P.I. Mark Cropper (£484,400)
  1 of 4 co-Is of NASA HST grant AR-12136 with P.I. Eric Jullo ($50,000)
"Galaxy bias measurement with weak lensing in COSMOS".
2009 Principal Investigator (with Co-PI Tom Kitching) of Edinburgh University Innovation Initiative Grant 3814 (£3,800)
"Papyrus web development".
  1 of 3 co-Is of NASA HST grant AR-11769 with P.I. Jason Rhodes ($70,000)
"Mitigating Image Persistence in WFC3 NIR Observations to Allow Weak Lensing Shape Measurements".
  1 of 15 co-Is of European commission grant with P.I. Tom Kitching (€10,985)
"GREAT10 PASCAL challenge".
  1 of 3 co-Is of Royal Astronomical Society grant with P.I. Gisa Wezskalnys (£3,000)
and International Astronomical Union IYA2009 Special Global Project (£3,000)
"Celebrating the 1919 eclipse at Príncipe".
2008 Principal Investigator of European Research Council FP7 grant IRG-208994 (€100,000)
"Understanding the Dark Universe with 3D Weak Gravitational Lensing".
  1 of 3 co-Is of JPL DRDF grant 2008-112 with P.I. Jason Rhodes ($560,000)
"Ameliorating non-linear detector effects in weak gravitational lensing measurements".
  1 of 2 co-Is of NASA HST grant AR-11747 with P.I. Joel Bergé ($50,000)
"Shapelet analysis of the COSMOS field".
  1 of 11 co-Is of Royal Observatory Edinburgh STFC Rolling Grant with P.I. John Peacock
"Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology at Edinburgh".
2007 Collaborator on Beyond Einstein Foundation Science grant N5-BEFS05-0024 with P.I. Jason Rhodes ($280,000)
"Weak Gravitational Lensing Using Multi-band Imaging".
  Co-I of European commission grant with P.I. Sarah Bridle (€20,500)
"GREAT08 PASCAL challenge".
2006 Principal Investigator of NASA HST grant AR-10964 ($50,000)
"Correcting effects of Charge Transfer Inefficiency in the ACS Wide Field Camera".
2005 Collaborator on NASA grant ATP04-0000-0067 with P.I. David Goldberg ($274,127)
"Galaxy Flexion — Gravitational Lensing to Second Order".

Science communication

My work on dark matter maps and dark matter particle colliders has appeared in the Guiness book of World Records, London Science Museum, Tokyo Science Museum and New York Museum of Modern Art. It has also been published on the front pages of Nature, The Independent, BBC News online,, as well as in many other newspapers and magazines.

I have appeared on TV documentaries including BBC Horizon, NOVA, the Science Channel and National Geographic, plus radio stations from the BBC world service and NPR Science Friday to the morning breakfast show on KiwiFM. I have also been a pundit on the BBC and the Great British Innovation vote, and been commissioned to write an article for BBC News online. I have delivered invited talks at the American Museum of Natural History, the University of KwaZulu-Natal senate, and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

I helped coordinate the initial science communications and public outreach strategy for esa's Euclid mission. I have consulted for the California Science Center, and have worked on exhibits at two Royal Society Summer Science Exhibitions. I organised an IAU special project to the West African island of Príncipe, where Sir Arthur Eddington's observations of the 1919 total solar eclipse proved General Relativity. I designed a stainless steel informational plaque that was unveiled at the site by President José Cassandra, plus an exhibition that has since been installed on both Príncipe and São Tomé, the Museo do Eclipse in Sobral, Brazil, and a mobile exhibition touring Brazilian schools,. and was temporarily exibited in the National Gallery of Scotland.

Closer to home, I have visited school science societies and judged science fairs. I have helped public observing nights at various observatories, spoken at Café Scientifique, and hosted at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. To pass on some enthusiasm, I spoke at the Royal Society of Edinburgh workshop for early career scientists on "Managing the media".

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