Timothy O'Brien

Timothy O'Brien


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I am a Professor of Astrophysics and an Associate Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.

My research concentrates on the study of exploding stars – mainly nova outbursts caused by thermonuclear explosions on the surface of white dwarfs in binary star systems.

Over the years, I’ve developed expertise in a wide range of astrophysical techniques. I started as a theorist, working for 3 years on a model of a single stellar explosion (without even considering where it might be in the sky in case I fancied a look myself). However, since then I’ve also used large telescopes around the world and in space, working across the spectrum from radio waves to X-rays whilst also carrying out numerical simulations of the aftermath of the explosions using my own hydrodynamic codes. Recently I’ve developed an interest in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) using radio telescopes. Not found any yet though.

I have always combined my research with extensive teaching commitments (see below) and a wide range of public engagement activities including regular appearances in the media and in events at Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement and elsewhere. One of my current major public engagement projects is the bluedot festival – a celebration of music, science, technology and the arts – of which I was a co-founder and to which I contribute science content and curation.

Recently, I have been active in celebrating the heritage of Jodrell Bank including the construction of a major new gallery (part of the First Light project) and was a co-author with Teresa Anderson of the nomination documents leading to Jodrell Bank Observatory being designated a World Heritage Site in 2019.

Away from work, I enjoy (mostly) watching Manchester United and working in our garden in the Peak District, a beautiful part of the world.


Full nameTimothy John O’Brien
Education1969-70St Gabriel’s RC Primary School, Castleton
 1970-75St Mary’s RC Primary School, Littleborough
 1975-77St Wilfrid’s RC Middle School, Rochdale
 1977-82Bishop Henshaw RC Senior High School, Rochdale
 1982-85Queen Mary College, University of London
 1985-88University of Manchester
Qualifications1985B.Sc. (Hons), First class, Physics with Astrophysics, University of London
 1990Ph.D. in Astrophysics, University of Manchester, ‘A model for the remnant of the recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi (1985)’
Appointments1988-92Lecturer, University of Central Lancashire, School of Physics & Astronomy
 1992-99Senior Lecturer/Reader, Liverpool John Moores University, School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences, Astrophysics Research Institute
 1999-dateLecturer/Reader/Professor, University of Manchester, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Faculty of Science & Engineering, UoM
Associate Director Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, UoM


I have worked as a lecturer in three universities since 1988. This has involved teaching and course development duties on many different programmes including BSc/MPhys degrees in Physics, Astrophysics and Applied Physics, BEng degrees, HNDs in Applied Physics and part-time pre-degree courses in Mathematics.

I have developed and taught many lecture and laboratory courses, and supervised project students. These have covered observational and theoretical topics in astronomy & astrophysics at all levels from first to final year, as well as physics, applied mathematics and computing, including programming in python, C and Fortran and use of various numerical software packages (including Matlab, NAG).

From 1999-2009, I was the Programme Director responsible for the development, teaching and management of a suite of part-time undergraduate courses in astronomy delivered electronically by distance learning. Over 10 years, 1300 students registered with the University of Manchester as part of this programme which included four course units at Levels 1 and 2, rated at a total of 70 credits, and which included collaboration with the Open University, Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Central Lancashire.

From 2016-2020, I was the Director of Teaching & Learning in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, with overall responsibility for the whole portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate taught courses in the department, one of the largest physics departments in the UK.

My current (academic year 2022/23) undergraduate teaching comprises:

  • PHYS10101 Dynamics (lecture course)
  • PHYS10692 Physics of the Solar System (lecture course)
  • UCIL20211 Are We Alone? The Search for Extraterrestrial Life (online lecture course)
  • PHYS10180 Year 1 Laboratory (Digital Electronics)
  • PHYS20180 Year 2 Laboratory (Amplifiers & Feedback)

Areas of expertise

  • QB Astronomy

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Creative Manchester


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  • 1 Similar Profiles
  • Kelvin Medal of the Institute of Physics

    O'Brien, Timothy (Recipient) & Anderson, Teresa (Recipient), 2014

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)