Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. I lead the Solar and Stellar Physics research group. We study the Sun and other stars – notably solar-type and red-giant stars – using the techniques of helioseismology and asteroseismology. On the helioseismology side, we have run our own global network of helioseismic observatories – the Birmingham Solar-Oscillations Network (BiSON) – for over 30 years. On the asteroseismology side we are playing a leading role in exploiting data from a new generation of satellites and telescopes. I am particularly interested in characterizing other stars in our local solar neighborhood that also host newly detected planets.
What are the most important recent developments in the field of research discussed in your chapter?
In asteroseismology there is little doubt that the observational side of the field has been revolutionized by new satellite and telescope data of unprecedented quality and scope, notably the exquisite data collected by the NASA Kepler Mission. Kepler built on the success of the CNRS-led CoRoT Mission. The future looks very bright for asteroseismology, with the upcoming NASA TESS and ESA PLATO Missions slated for launches in, respectively, 2017 and 2024.
In helioseismology, the reduced levels of activity in the current 11-year solar cycle are a major focus of research. One has to go back around 100 years to find peak levels of activity as low as those we are seeing in the current cycle, and this is leading to speculation that the Sun might transition out of its modern “Grand Maximum” activity state.
How can other seismologists, planetary scientists and astrophysicists learn from this area of research?
The cross-fertilization of approaches to the analysis and exploitation of large datasets is an obvious area of overlap between different fields. To take but two examples, the challenges of extracting what may be weak signals from noise, or of finding and fitting the best models to our data are shared problems. In sum, we have much to learn from each other!
Could you recommend one or two of your key research papers related to your book chapter? Could you tell us a bit more about the research?
In 2013, my colleague Andrea Miglio and I wrote an invited review for the journal Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. This comprehensive paper provides an overview of modern asteroseismic studies of solar-type and red-giant stars, covering both the important theory and the new observational data and results from the Kepler and CoRoT missions. We discuss not only recent developments in our understanding of stellar evolution theory, but also how asteroseismology has a key role to play in characterizing newly discovered exoplanet systems and in providing data for studies of stellar populations and the evolution of our Galaxy. [Chaplin, W. J., Miglio, A., 2013, ARA&A, 51, 353]
How important is it for you to be involved in international, collaborative, interdisciplinary research linked to seismology?
I would like to highlight the importance of cross-disciplinary studies, which are becoming increasingly important across all areas of science. Aside from the obvious overlap in the underlying mathematics and technical approaches to certain problems, cross-fertilization between different fields and disciplines can introduce new ways of doing things by challenging scientists to confront how they have viewed and thought about key problems, shaking up accepted practice, taking them outside their comfort zones, and hence helping to develop new paradigms and practices. Without that objective view from “outside” there is always a danger that practice can get “set in its ways”, which is never a good thing.
Do you have any other messages to our readers?
Our field is currently developing very rapidly, with those changes being driven by new, high-quality, large volume data; theory is working hard to catch up. It is extremely exciting to think that in a few years’ time we will be exploiting new methods of analysis on new data that, only a few years ago, we could only have dreamt of utilizing.