Vivian U

Vivian U

Vivian U

TMT Postdoctoral Scholar

Department of Physics and Astronomy

University of California, Riverside

900 University Avenue

Riverside, CA 92521

Office: Pierce 2219A

Email: vivianu-at-ucr.edu

Research interests: Infrared Galaxies, Interacting Galaxies, Active Galactic Nuclei, Starburst-AGN Connection, Galaxy Formation and Evolution, Integral-field Spectroscopy with Adaptive Optics, Submillimeter/Radio Astronomy

Biographical Information

  • TMT Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Riverside (2012-Present)
  • Ph.D. in Astronomy, IfA, University of Hawai'i at Manoa (2012)
    • NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellow (2009-2012)
    • SAO Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard-Smithsonian CfA (2009-2011)
  • B.S. in Astrophysics, Caltech (2006)

Publications and Curriculum Vitae

You can search for my publications on ADS and arXiv! And here is my CV in pdf format (Updated Feb 2015).


I am interested in galaxy formation and evolution in the very broad sense, particularly via infrared galaxies, galaxy mergers, and AGN.

0. Stellar Atmospheres of Blue Supergiants in M33

  • U et al. "A New Distance to M33 Using Blue Supergiants and the FGLR Method." 2009, ApJ, 704, 1120
FGLR (U et al. 2009, Fig. 11)

Observed mass–luminosity relationship compared with the relationships (dashed: late B and A supergiants, solid: early B supergiants) obtained from the evolutionary tracks of Figure 10. Spectroscopic masses derived from stellar gravity and radius are used for the M33 targets of this study (U et al. 2009; Figure 11).

While the cosmological distance ladder is extended to very high redshifts with hitherto unknown precision, we are confronted with the fact that distances to many nearby galaxies where individual stars and HII regions can be resolved are disturbingly uncertain. The Triangulum Galaxy M33 suffers from such a dilemma where the distance moduli obtained with different techniques differ by as much as 30% in linear distance (Bonanos et al. 2006). Applying the flux-weighted gravity– luminosity relationship (FGLR; Kudritzki et al. 2008, Urbaneja et al. 2008) to the quantitative spectral analysis of blue supergiants, we computed a new distance modulus of 24.93±0.11 mag for M33 (U et al. 2009). This significance of this work is three-fold: 1. Our distance has been widely adopted (e.g. McConnachie et al. 2010; Sanchez et al. 2010); it refines the FGLR calibration as a basis for wide application of this distance determination method. 2. Our distance has been compared to that from HST observations of Cepheids and with the tip of the red giant branch using HST ACS images to constrain reddening assumptions. 3. Our measurement of metal abundance and metallicity gradient have notable implications for those who study the resolved stellar properties in galaxies (e.g. Magrini et al. 2010, Verley et al. 2010, Barker et al. 2011).

1. Local Luminous Infrared Galaxies

Star formation has been occurring ever since the universe was only about 600 million years old, but it did not reach its peak activity level until 3 billions years later. Why star formation took place so rapidly during that epoch has been nebulous. The present paradigm of galaxy evolution suggests that the key lies in a group of objects discovered by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite due to their extreme brightness in the infrared: the luminous and ultraluminous infrared galaxies (LIRGs: LIR[8-1000μm] ≥ 1011 L⊙). Though relatively rare locally, (U)LIRGs are responsible for much of the star formation during the peak of star formation history (e.g. Le Floc’h et al. 2005). Therefore, knowledge of the processes that drive this enormous energy in (U)LIRGs is pivotal to comprehend the evolution of galaxies as part of NASA’s Cosmic Origins Program.

1.1 Global Properties of (U)LIRGs
  • U et al. "Spectral Energy Distributions of Local Luminous and Ultraluminous Infrared Galaxies." 2012, ApJS, 203, 9
U et al. (2012) Figure 4

Mean radio through X-ray SEDs normalized at J band in two luminosity bins corresponding to ULIRGs (top) and LIRGs (bottom). The 50% and 100% range for the SEDs are shown by the thin solid and dashed lines, respectively. The shaded regions mark the wavelength ranges used to calculate the three spectral indices, α12, as described in the text. (U et al. 2012, Figure 4)


Global properties provide a basic understanding of these (U)LIRGs as a whole, including how luminous, star-forming, and massive they are. To this end, we have taken new optical images and, combined with multi-wavelength data from the X-ray to the radio bands in the literature, constructed spectral energy distributions which we then modeled to derive various physical properties (U et al. 2012). We found the mean dust temperature to be ~33.2K, about 10K cooler than previous measurements, dust mass Mdust = 2×107 M⊙, and stellar mass M⋆ = 6×1010 M⊙. Using different indicators, we also found that ~60% of the ULIRGs and 25% of the LIRGs are classified to host active galactic nuclei (AGN). The compiled photometry along with the derived physical quantities provide an important benchmark of (U)LIRGs quoted in detailed studies of nearby interstellar medium and compact starbursts properties (Kamenetzky et al. 2014; Murphy et al. 2013) as well as surveys of high-redshift galaxies (Willott et al. 2013; Wang et al. 2013).




1.2 Nuclear Disks and Black Hole Masses
  • Medling, U et al. "Stellar and Gaseous Nuclear Disks Observed in Nearby (U)LIRGs." 2014a, ApJ, 784, 70
  • Medling, U et al. "Following Black Hole Scaling Relations through Galaxy Mergers." 2015b, accepted to ApJ

An understanding of the global properties of the (U)LIRGs prompts detailed investigations on the nature of black hole accretion and star formation in their nuclei that power their enormous luminosities. We have undertaken a high-resolution observing campaign using the near-infrared integral-field spectrograph OSIRIS with adaptive optics on the Keck Telescopes to study gas and stellar dynamics in the central regions. We discovered rotating gas and stellar disks (~200 pc in size) in nearly all 17 of our galaxies (Medling, U et al. 2014a), which provided a means to model the Keplerian motion of material around the black hole and infer its mass (Medling, U et al. 2014c). Black hole masses are found to be in the range 0.3–1×109M⊙, lying on or above scaling relations that link black hole masses and galaxy bulge properties. The implication is that black holes grow rapidly during the early stages of mergers, outpacing its corresponding bulge formation.

1.3 AGNs and Molecular Outflows
  • U et al. "The Inner Kiloparsec of Mrk 273 with Keck Adaptive Optics." 2013, ApJ, 775, 115
  • Medling, U et al. "Revealing the Causes of Shocks in IRAS F17207-0014.", 2015a, accepted to MNRAS

U et al. (2013) Figure 7

Left to right: the moments 0, 1, and 2 maps corresponding to the unbinned flux, binned velocity, and binned velocity dispersion maps of H2c in the central region of Mrk 273. Pixels with low signal-to-noise ratio have been removed from the kinematics maps. Contour levels represent the continuum flux, with cross marking the SE region. Bar denotes 0farcs5; N points up. A bridge in flux connects the N and SE components. The bridge shows negative velocities and increased velocity dispersions. The velocity map also reveals strong rotation in the N component; here, velocity dispersion increases in conical regions along the minor axis, possibly revealing biconical collimated outflows from the center of the disk. (U et al. 2013, Figure 7)

Our observations further enabled several case studies where we disentangle the nuclear physical conditions and explore the link between AGNs and starburst as powering engines in (U)LIRGs. Analyzing H2, Brγ, and coronal line [Si VI] in AGN-host ULIRG Mrk 273, we observed outflowing molecular gas from what was thought as a quiescent nucleus, adding it to the small list of spectroscopically confirmed nearby dual AGNs (U et al. 2013). In IRAS F17207, we identified shocked gas originating from outflows or collision between two gaseous star-forming disks (Medling, U et al. 2014b). Our H2 survey has found small-scale outflows associated with shocked molecular gas from elevated H2/Brγ ratios and H2 velocity dispersion in the nuclei (U et al. in prep). We have instigated more integral-field programs to explore the small- and large-scale gas dynamics in (U)LIRGs that are at different stages of interaction in order to trace outflows through the merging process. These insights advance our understanding of the interplay between stars, gas, and black holes as the smoking gun signature for large-scale galactic winds that play a key role in regulating star formation within galaxies and enriching the circumgalactic medium.

1.5 The Morphology and Kinematics of Cold Molecular Gas in (U)LIRGs
  • Wang, J. et al. "Fast and Furious: Shock Heated Gas as the Origin of Spatially Resolved Hard X-ray Emission in the Central 5 kpc of the Galaxy Merger NGC 6240." 2014, ApJ, 785, 55
  • Tan, Q.; Gao, Y.; Wang, Z.; U, Vivian. "High-resolution SMA imaging of (ultra)-luminous infrared galaxies." 2012, IAUS, 284, 471
  • U, et al. "High-resolution Mapping of CO(3-2) in NGC 6240." 2011, ASPC, 446, 97

Molecular gas plays an important role in fueling nuclear activity in extreme environments in the nuclei of (U)LIRGs, but its morphology and correlation to stars and dust have been difficult to distinguish given the lack of high-resolution submillimeter observations previously. Our SMA campaign to build on the archival work of Wilson et al. (2008) and improve on sample size and spatial resolution has been motivated to determine the role of mergers in the state of the nuclear CO gas and in triggering nuclear starbursts and/or AGN. The CO gas emission in NGC 6240 has been highlighted as a special case for the interesting structure that it displays.

1.6 Other Selected Publications from the Great Observatory All-Sky LIRG Survey
  • Stierwalt, S. et al. "Mid-infrared Properties of Nearby Luminous Infrared Galaxies. II. Probing the Dust and Gas Physics of the GOALS Sample." 2014, ApJ, 790, 124
  • Stierwalt, S. et al. "Mid-infrared Properties of Nearby Luminous Infrared Galaxies. I. Spitzer Infrared Spectrograph Spectra for the GOALS Sample." 2013, ApJS, 206, 1
  • Mazzarella, J. et al. "Investigation of Dual Active Nuclei, Outflows, Shock-heated Gas, and Young Star Clusters in Markarian 266." 2012, AJ, 144, 125
  • Iwasawa, K.; Sanders, D. B.; Teng, S. H.; U, Vivian; et al. "C-GOALS: Chandra observations of a complete sample of luminous infrared galaxies from the IRAS Revised Bright Galaxy Survey." 2011 A&A, 529, 106
  • Iwasawa, K. et al. "The location of an active nucleus and the soft X-ray shadowing by a tidal tail in the ULIRG Mrk 273." 2011, A&A, 528, 137
  • Petric, A. et al. "Mid-Infrared Spectral Diagnostics of Luminous Infrared Galaxies." 2011, ApJ, 730, 28
  • Haan, S. et al. "The Nuclear Structure in Nearby Luminous Infrared Galaxies: HST NICMOS Imaging of the GOALS Sample." 2011, AJ, 141, 100
  • Inami, H. et al. "The Buried Starburst in the Interacting Galaxy II Zw 096 as Revealed by the Spitzer Space Telescope." 2010, AJ, 140, 63
  • Howell, J. et al. "The Great Observatories All-Sky LIRG Survey: Comparison of Ultraviolet and Far-Infrared Properties." 2010, ApJ, 715, 572
  • Armus, L. et al. "GOALS: The Great Observatories All-sky LIRG Survey." 2009, PASP, 121, 559

2. Lyman Alpha Emitting sources at 3 < z < 7

  • U et al. "A Correlation Between Lyα Spectral Line Profile and Rest-Frame UV Morphology." 2015, ApJ, to be submitted

High-redshift star-forming galaxies are often probed using Lyα λ1216 emission as the hydrogen line is redshifted into visible wavelengths easily accessible from ground-based optical telescopes. The spectral profile of Lyα is indicative of the origin and escape path of Lyα photons, as well as the extinction by neutral hydrogen and dust in the inter-
stellar medium (Tapken et al. 2007; Yamada et al. 2012). To investigate how dust affects the Lyα escape path, we explore the relationship between the Lyα spectral shape and the host morphology with a sample of Lyα-emitting galaxies at 3 < z < 7 (U et al. 2014). With Keck DEIMOS spectra and HST WFC3 images, we compare the Lyα line asymmetry to axial ratios in rest-frame UV images, as both may demonstrate obscuring dust along the line of sight. We find that, independent of redshift, the skewness of Lyα exhibits a large scatter at small elongation, and this scatter decreases as a function of axial ratio as the galaxy appears more edge-on (Figure 2). This result reflects the effect of viewing angle and rotational velocity of the ionizing source on the observed morphologies (Garavito-Camargo et al. 2014). Follow-up work on the nature of the double-peaked Lyα emitters will be presented in a forth-coming paper (Hemmati, U et al. in prep).

3. Thirty Meter Telescope: Infrared Multiobject Spectrograph

  • Check out the IRMS webpage!
  • Try out the preliminary ETC for IRMS here! (Start from the README file in the tarball; contact me if you have any questions.)

The nature of high-redshift galaxies is best probed by large, spectroscopic surveys of the deep fields; a suitable instrument would be an infrared multi-object spectrograph on a large telescope, like the IRMS on TMT. As a core member of the Science Team working closely with Project Scientist Dr. Bahram Mobasher, I have developed its exposure time calculator to quantify the sensitivity of the instrument as aided by NFIRAOS, the adaptive optics systems on the TMT, in order to optimize its design parameters. The experience from making contributions to the IRMS Operation Concept Design Document as well as the TMT Detailed Science Cases (as an ISDT member) is excellent preparation for the era of next-generation instrumentation.

4. Galaxies at Intermediate Redshifts

As an undergrad, I did my senior thesis with Dr. Richard Ellis and Dr. Lauren MacArthur at Caltech on spiral bulges with 0.1<z<1.2 in the GOODS field. My very first summer research experience (e.g. SURF) with Dr. Chris Conselice on distant Extremely Red Objects had secured my interests in extragalactic research ever since my early college years!

  • MacArthur, L. A.; Ellis, R. S.; Treu, T.; U, Vivianet al. "The Evolutionary History of Galactic Bulges: Photometric and Spectroscopic Studies of Distant Spheroids in the GOODS Fields." 2008, ApJ, 680, 70
  • Conselice, C. J.; Bundy, K.; U, Vivian et al. "The faint and extremely red K-band selected galaxy population in the DEEP2/Palomar fields." 2008, MNRAS, 383, 1366


Page maintained by Vivian U: vivianu-at-ucr.edu

Last modified: Fri Nov 9 12:32:35 PST 2012