About me


I am a Reader (similar to Associate Professor) in Astrophysics at Queen’s University Belfast. I am also Principal Investigator of the KRANK project, funded by the European Research Council, and a former Royal Astronomical Society Research Fellow and Alan Turing Institute Fellow.

I study the dynamic sky: transient and explosive phenomena that evolve on human timescales. Or simply put: stars exploding, colliding, disrupting and generally having a bad time.

I am most interested in how compact objects — neutron stars and black holes — provide the engines behind some of the rarest and most powerful events in the Universe. These include:

  • Superluminous supernovae, which for a year emit as much light as the entire Milky Way galaxy. These super-duper-novae can provide a unique window into the evolution and fate of some of the most massive stars ever to have lived and died.
  • Tidal disruption events caused by stars passing too close to supermassive black holes with a million times the mass of our Sun. The energy released when these stars are shredded can teach us about how black holes and matter behave in extreme gravity.
  • Kilonovae powered by collisions between two neutron stars (or a neutron star and a black hole). These collisions are so powerful they can be detected by the ripples they make in spacetime, via gravitational waves. They also likely produce all the gold in the Universe.

The goal of my current project is to find and study samples of these rare events using large surveys such as the Vera Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time alongside machine learning approaches to source identification. Click this ADS link if you would like to see more of my published work.

Researchers tend to move around. Before joining the permanent staff at QUB, I have worked or studied at the University of Birmingham, University of Edinburgh, Harvard University, QUB (again!), and Oxford University. Finally, Nickel-56 is a very important radioactive nucleus produced in supernova explosions, hence my twitter handle: @mattnicholl56!

Hubble Space Telescope image of a superluminous supernova 800 days after it exploded. The supernova is in a faint galaxy. at the right of the image. Shortly after explosion, SN 2015bn was even brighter than the giant spiral galaxy on the left! (Image from Nicholl et al 2018)