Advisory Board

Professor John K. Webb

The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil said the following in the Changing the Speed of Light section

In 2001 astronomer John Webb discovered that the so-called fine-structure constant varied when he examined light from sixty-eight quasars (very bright young galaxies). The speed of light is one of four constants that the fine-structure constant comprises, so the result is another suggestion that varying conditions in the universe may cause the speed of light to change.

Dr. Sheldon Glashow of Boston University, who received a Nobel Prize in physics in 1979, said the importance of such a discovery would rank “10 on a scale of 1 to 10” and “would rock physics and cosmology”.
 
Professor John K. Webb, Ph.D., FRAS is Professor of Astrophysics at the Department of Astrophysics and Optics at The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney. His present research interests divide into two areas: cosmology, and extra-solar planets.
 
Cosmology: quasar spectroscopy allows him to test fundamental physics. The long look-back time to quasars permits a check on the constancy of the fundamental constants (in particular, the fine-structure constant). Similar observations provide measurements of the the baryonic density, one component of the energy content of the universe, hence telling us about its expansion history. The observations come from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Keck 10m telescope, and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.
 
Extra-solar planets: he has begun extensive observations by searching for tiny drops in the host star brightness as the planet eclipses. He uses a departmental telescope at Siding Spring, NSW (the Automated Patrol Telescope) for this project.
 
John has published over 100 papers covering a diverse range of topics including searches for varying fundamental constants, extra-solar planets, the intergalactic medium and the Gunn-Peterson effect, light element abundances, large-scale clustering of matter, and the detection of gravitational waves.
 
He coauthored Limits on Variations in Fundamental Constants from 21-cm and Ultraviolet Quasar Absorption Lines in Physical Review Letters, The University of New South Wales Extrasolar Planet Search: methods and first results from a field centred on NGC 6633 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Cosmological variation of the deuteron binding energy, strong interaction, and quark masses from big bang nucleosynthesis in Physical Review D, and Could We Detect Molecular Oxygen in the Atmosphere of a Transiting Extra-Solar Earth-Like Planet? in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia (PASA).
 
John received a BSc with Honors in Chemical Physics from Surrey University in 1980 and a PhD in Astrophysics from Cambridge University in 1986. FRAS stands for Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.