Astrophysics Research Institute uses innovation to create ground-breaking facilities for the global astronomy community.


The Astrophysics Research Institute is a world-leader in high performance computing, time domain astronomy and stellar populations.

Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI), at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), is a leading institution in Astronomy and Astrophysics and the third largest astrophysics group in the UK.

Since 2013, the department has been located in Liverpool Science Park and its 100+ staff and students benefit from the close connections and collaboration opportunities with big industry, SMEs and the general public.

They also benefit from being in the same building as the Manufacturing Technology Centre, an organisation they hope to collaborate with in the future, along with being just down the street from Sensor City, who they have undertaken a variety of successful projects with.

Computing and high performance technology are used in abundance in the ARI. The Computational Galaxy Formation group create simulated ‘universes’ using high performance computing facilities, with which to make predictions and interpret telescope observations. They have recently commissioned a new cluster at LJMU comprising 1800 compute cores, 14 terabytes of memory and 3 petabytes of storage. They also use top-tier international supercomputers with tens of thousands of compute cores.

In relation to telescopes, ARI own and operate The Liverpool Telescope (LT), a fully robotic astronomical telescope which measures 8.5 metres tall, 6.5 metres wide and weighs around 24 metric tonnes.

Prof. Iain Steele, Director of the Liverpool Telescope, said:

“The Liverpool Telescope is owned and operated by the Astrophysics Research Institute, but is available to all UK astronomy departments funded by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

“Since its first light in 2004, it has made over 4 million scientific observations resulting in over 750 scientific publications, and as the Liverpool Telescope is fully autonomous, it has allowed much of our research to continue gathering new data during a difficult past 12 months.”

Contrary to its name, the Liverpool Telescope is not in fact located in Liverpool but in the Canary Islands, as it is one of the best astronomical sites in the world. The LT’s cutting edge technology led to the institute receiving the “Queen’s Anniversary Prize” for higher education in 2006 in recognition of its development of the robotic telescope, and in 2007 the “Times Higher Education Supplement Award” for ‘Project of the Year’ was given for the use of RINGO optical polarimeter at the Liverpool Telescope in measuring gamma-ray bursts.

Since then, the ARI have designed further telescope instrumentation including the new MOPTOP polarimeter: designed, constructed, tested and calibrated by Dr. Manisha Shrestha, Dr. Andrzej Piascik, Prof. Iain Steele and Dr. Helen Jermak, along with the rest of the telescope group.

Another key research project at the ARI is Dr. David Eden’s project to determine how stars form within our Galaxy, and if those stars form differently depending on their environment.

Overall, the work of the ARI encompasses a comprehensive programme of observational and theoretical research, telescope operation and instrument development, in addition to academic learning and outreach activities.

Prof. Phil James, Head of Department at ARI, said:

“As a department, we are committed to inspiring the next generation of astrophysicists, engineers and scientists, along with changing peoples’ perceptions of STEM subjects in general.

“We have good links with a range of wider industry associates including Arup, Sensor City, Cammell Laird and Influential and we hope to move forward with many more exciting projects to share the wonders of astronomy with local communities.”

In the future, the ARI are looking to continue to conduct high-level research in a range of areas and are looking to grow. On the horizon is the commencement of construction of the New Robotic Telescope.

The New Robotic Telescope (NRT) is an international collaboration between engineering and science partners using innovation and creativity to create a ground-breaking facility for the astronomy community. The NRT will be the world’s largest robotic telescope and the first responder to explosive and rapidly fading sources in the night sky.

Combining innovative ideas with 16 years’ experience of autonomous telescope and instrumentation operations gained from the Liverpool Telescope, the project will create a fully optimised observatory for the future of astronomical studies of transient phenomena.

The next decade will also see the commissioning of many major international projects by ARI, opening new windows on the time-variable universe. They will make it possible to search wider areas of the sky than ever before, and as such discover new classes of transient and time-variable sources.

To find out more about the ARI, please visit: https://www.astro.ljmu.ac.uk/