Kieran O'Brien

profile image

Kieran O'Brien


I am a researcher in the optical/near-IR instrumentation group in the astrophysics department. I am currently working on the HARMONI integral-field spectrograph, one of the first light instruments chosen for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). I am the local project manager responsible for overseeing the design, manufacture and testing of the spectrograph units for this ground-breaking instrument.

My other area of research is in the development of Kinetic Inductance Detectors (KIDs, or MKIDs) in astronomy. We are building a group at Oxford working in this area using the extensive experience of people in the areas of Optical/IR instrumentation, high-speed digital read-out and superconducting detectors.

Earlier in my career, I spent seven wonderful (hectic) years as an ESO Staff Astronomer at the VLT in Chile, where I was the Instrument Scientist for the twin FORS spectrographs and gained in depth experience with a wide range of optical and infrared instruments.

I have been a tutor for the 4th year Astrophysics course in the Physics Department.
I am currently a senior demonstrator in the third year Astrophysics Lab.

My research focuses on the study of interacting binaries. These are systems that are comprised a compact object (Black Hole, Neutron Star or White Dwarf) in a close binary orbit with a (usually) less evolved star. I use the variability of the light emitted from such sources to probe the different components of the binary (the donor star, accretion disk, compact object and out-flowing jet). This involves observing the sources at a number of wavelengths to probe the different regions. These include X-rays (RXTE, SWIFT and XMM), Optical/UV (VLT, Keck, WHT, Palomar 200-inch and HST) and Infra-red (VLT) observations. I combine these observations to indirectly image the systems in order to better understand the interactions of light and matter in these extreme physical environments.