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Professor James Osborn

Professor (Research) - UKRI FLF

Professor (Research) - UKRI FLF in the Department of Physics
Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study


I am the founding director of the Durham University Space Research Centre (SPARC) a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and an Associate Professor (Research) in the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI), Durham University, UK. 

In the CfAI, I lead the free-space optics group, studying how light travels through the Earth’s atmosphere. Initially this focussed on instrumentation for astronomy, building the scientific equipment that enables astronomers to use large ground-based telescopes to study planets orbiting distant stars, how galaxies form and evolve and even the nature of dark matter in the universe. More recently I have focussed on exchanging technology and techniques from astronomy into emerging sectors such as free-space optical communications (enabling global high-bandwidth and secure connectivity) and space surveillance and tracking (enabling the sustainable exploitation of space).

My personal research is concerned with forecasting, modelling, measuring and mitigating the Earth’s atmospheric turbulence for free-space optical applications such as astronomy, free-space optical communications. I am also developing techniques for space object detection and characterisation based on astronomical principles. I have built instruments that are active at sites all over the world for various research organisations, the data from which are actively used by several research communities.

Research Interests:

Atmospheric Physics

The Earth’s turbulent atmosphere has two detrimental effects on light propagation, i) the image appears to wobble and blurs, losing spatial information, and ii) the brightness varies, seen as twinkling and called scintillation, limiting the temporal photometric precision. My research is concerned with forecasting, modelling, measuring and mitigating this atmospheric turbulence.

Free-space Optical Communications

The large bandwidth available from using visible light, as opposed to conventional radio communication, will enable 10-100 times higher data rates, helping us to meet demands for higher capacity data transmissions that societies around the world have become accustomed to, as well as to increase the volume of data retrieved from space science satellites used for Earth observation, inter-planetary and deep space missions.

Astronomical Instrumentation

The full potential of ground based optical telescopes can only be realised with the careful application of sophisticated instrumentation. I am particularly interested in Adaptive Optics technologies for wide-field and high-contrast imaging and high-precision time-resolved photometry.

Space Surveillance and Tracking

The detection, identification and tracking of objects in space (active satellites, debris, rocket bodies) is critical for the sustainable use of space for future generations. I develop innovative technology to accurately identify, track and characterise objects in space.

Space Sustainability

I am enthusiastic about multi-disciplinary research. Using novel instruments and techniques to enable the sustainable use of space, to grow the capacity and capabilities of space applications while protecting the space environment for present and future generations. This includes working with experts across law, international relations, and business operations to build a holistic model of the space environment.


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