Andrew Levan

2018 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Andrew Levan

Current Position:
Professor of Astronomy, Department of Physics

University of Warwick

Astrophysics & Cosmology

Recognized for: Transforming our understanding in high-energy events in the universe (such as deaths of stars and formation of black holes) by leading the observations on gamma-ray bursts and deploying such phenomena as probes to the distant universe

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Gamma-ray bursts, Gravitational waves, Supernovae, Distant and Transient Events in the Universe, and Black Holes


MPhys, University of Leicester, UK
PhD, Astronomy, University of Leicester, UK (Advisor: Prof. Martin Barstow)
PPARC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Hertfordshire, UK (Advisor: Prof. Nial Tanvir)
Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor, University of Warwick, UK

Prof. Levan works on the observation of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), which are the most luminous and energetic explosions in the universe: for a few seconds they emit as much energy in this fleeting burst as the Sun creates over its 10 billion-year life. He has obtained much new understanding of the rich relativistic physics behind GRBs, and has deployed such phenomena as powerful probes that act as lighthouses to the distant universe. Noticeable research highlights achieved by Prof. Levan include the identification of the most distant GRBs ever seen in the universe, which explore the conditions in the earliest galaxies; the discovery of a new type of outburst from a star tidally destroyed in a close encounter with supermassive black hole, which opens an entirely new window onto the properties of black holes at the center of galaxies; the identification of a new type of ultra-long GRBs resulted from a stellar explosion; and work showing that despite the extreme and potentially hazardous nature of these explosions, the Earth itself is likely safe. Most recently, Prof. Levan played a major role in the identification of characterization of the first electromagnetic counterpart to a gravitational wave source, GW170817. This included the identification of the infrared counterpart, known as a kilonova, and leading the first observations of this counterpart with the Hubble Space Telescope. These events provide the astrophysics community with a completely new way to study the Universe, and explore new information from deep inside extreme events, places that cannot be seen with normal light.

“My work seeks to understand how some of the most extreme objects in nature work, but also how their action shapes the world in which we live. Our planet is sculpted by such events, from the heavy elements that make the Earth, our bodies or even our precious metals to the explosions of stars than can extinguish life on Earth. I am deeply honoured to be recognized by the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists for this work, and would like to thank all of my friends and collaborators who have made the work possible.”

Key Publications:

  1. N. R. Tanvir, D. B. Fox, A. J. Levan, et al. A γ -ray burst at a redshift of z ≈ 8.2. Nature, 2009.
  2. A. J. Levan, et al. An extremely luminous panchromatic outburst from the nucleus of a distant galaxy. Science, 2011.
  3. A. J. Levan, et al. A new population of ultra-long duration gamma-ray burst. The Astrophysical Journal, 2014.
  4. A.J Levan et al. The Environment of the Binary Neutron Star Merger GW170817. The Astrophysical Journal Letters 2017

Other Honors:

2017European Research Council Consolidator Grant Fellow
2011Philip Leverhulme Prize
2005PPARC Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Hertfordshire
2005Swedish Institute Visiting Scholarship, Lund Observatory
2002Space Telescope Science Institute Summer Student Programme
2001Space Telescope Science Institute Summer Student Programme
2000Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Award, University of Leicester
1998Undergraduate bursary for top entry grades at the University of Leicester


In the Media:

Recent results on gravitational waves:

ESA - Hubble observes source of gravitational waves for the first time [heic1717]
ESO - ESO Telescopes Observe First Light from Gravitational Wave Source
New Scientist - Gravitational waves have let us see huge neutron stars colliding
New York Times - It Was a Universe-Shaking Announcement. But What Is a Neutron Star Anyway?
Washington Post - Gravitational waves? Neutron stars? Kilonovas? What the new physics announcement means.


BBC Breakfast Live Interview with Andrew Levan
Neutron stars: how they make gold in space!
Going out with a bang not a whimper
Powerful cosmic blast as black hole shreds star
NASA's Swift satellite observes massive supernova stars

The Independent

Found: the blast at the beginning of the universe
Nasa peers back into the 'cosmic dark ages'

Daily Mail

Edge of the universe: Death throes of dying star spotted 13 billion light years away
Exploding star that's the oldest and most distant thing we've ever seen
Ripped apart and swallowed by a black hole, scientists witness the extraordinary destruction of a star 3.8bn light years away
Earliest star blast helps astronomers peer back to dawn of time

The Washington Times

Farthest-ever explosion found at edge of cosmos?