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Professor Andrew Norton

photo of Andrew Norton

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Professor of Astrophysics Education
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Physical Sciences

Professional biography

B.Sc. (Hons) "Physics with Astrophysics" 1st class, Leicester University (1985)
Ph.D. "Galactic X-ray Astronomy with EXOSAT" Leicester University (1988)


Professor of Astrophysics Education, School of Physical Sciences, OU (2013 - present)
Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, OU (1999 - 2013)
Lecturer in Astrophysics, Department of Physics, OU (1992 - 1999)
Research Fellow, Department of Physics and Astronomy, U. Southampton (1988 - 1992)

Editor-in-Chief of the journal Astronomical Review, Taylor & Francis Publishers (2015 - present)

Other Open University roles:
SPS Postgraduate Tutor (2017 - present);
SEPNet Academic Outreach Officer and Coordinator (2013 - 2015);
Assoc. Programme Director for Physics and Astronomy & Planetary Science (2008 - 2014);
Departmental Director of External Relations (2003 - 2006);
Curriculum Director for Astronomy and Planetary Science (1999 - 2003);
Director of Research for Department of Physics and Astronomy (1998 - 2001).

I serve on the STFC Advisory Panel for Public Engagement

I am Co-Director of the OU's George Abell Observatory.

Professional memberships:

Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Vice President (2013 - 2015); Council Member (2010 - 2013);
Membership Committee (2010 - 2013); Diversity Committee (2013 - 2016)
Education & Outreach Committee (2013 - 2015).

Fellow of the Institute of Physics 

Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Member of the International Astronomical Union
(Division C - Education, Outreach and Heritage: Commission C2 - Communicating Astronomy with the Public;
Division F - Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy: Commission F2 - Exoplanets and the Solar System;
Division G - Stars and Stellar Physics: Commission G1 - Binary and Multiple Star Systems).

STEMNET Ambassador and Public Engagement Ambassador
for the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement


Research: The Royal Astronomical Society Group Achievement Award (2010) as part of the SuperWASP consortium.

Teaching: Open University Team Award (2016) for the production and first presentation of S217 Physics: from classical to quantum.

An Open University Teaching Award (2010) for "outstanding contributions to the teaching of astronomy and astrophysics, particularly through the use of innovative materials and methods."

Public Engagement: A SEPnet Public Engagement Award (2015), "Highly Commended" in the Achievement category, for my extensive body of public engagement.

Wordle cloud of my CV:

A complete bibliography of all my published work is available, containing links to downloadable PDF files. As well as refereed journal articles and conference papers, this list also includes text books, videos, TV programmes, software packages, experiment designs and printed or online outreach articles that I have produced. The statistics of my research publications are also available.

Research interests

My bibliography includes around 120 refereed journal papers (over 200 research publications in total) which have accumulated around  5000 citations. I am Senior Author for about 50 of the refereed journal papers (i.e. the lead author was either myself or a postgrad/postdoc for whom I was principal supervisor). I have an h-index of 36. See my publications on ADS.

My Research interests include:

  • General time domain astrophysics, focussing on stellar multiplicity and variability from wide field surveys for transiting exoplanets, especially SuperWASP.
  • Observations and modeling of Magnetic Cataclysmic Variables, in particular multi-wavelength observations of Intermediate Polars and modelling of their accretion flows.
  • Observations and modeling of High Mass X-ray Binaries, in particular radial velocity studies of eclipsing systems to determine masses of neutron stars and black holes.

I was co-Chair of the 2004 RAS National Astronomy Meeting held at the OU.

I am a founder member of the SuperWASP project and a founder member of the UK consortium which is a shareholder in the Southern African Large Telescope. I am member of the Science consortium for the PLATO exoplanet survey mission which is scheduled for launch by ESA in 2024 and I am founder and editor of the international Exoplanet Newsletter.

Postgraduate students (with their completion date & thesis titles) for whom I am lead (or co-lead) supervisor:

  • Heidi Thiemann (currrent) "Variable stars in the SuperWASP all sky survey"
  • Joseph Cooper (current) "Planet compositions from disintegrating exoplanets"
  • Paul Greer§ (2017) "Characterisation of the Blazhko effect in RR Lyrae stars using SuperWASP data"
  • Marcus Lohr* (2014) "Varying periods in variable stars with SuperWASP"
  • Andy Mason* (2012) "Red eyes on high mass X-ray binaries:  donor evolution & neutron star masses"
  • Stan Payne (2012) "The Identification and classification of variability in stellar sources observed with SuperWASP"
  • Olly Butters (2009)  "Unveiling the nature of Intermediate Polars through multiwavelength observations and computer modeling"
  • Les Thomas (2008) "Optical and infrared observations of cataclysmic variable stars''
  • Amira Val Baker (2007) "High Mass X-ray Binaries: the donor Stars and their compact companions"
  • Tracey Parker (2006)  "Accretion characteristics in Intermediate Polars''
  • Bob Somerscales (unfinished) "Modelling the accretion process in intermediate polars"
  • Diana Maxwell (2001) "Identification of High Mass X-ray Binaries''
  • Tim Ash (1999) "The masses of the neutron stars in Cen X-3 and Vela X-1''
  • Pete Taylor* (1997)  "Modelling the Accretion Process in Intermediate Polars''

* Winner of the AOUG Sir John Horlock Award for Science
§ Winner of the AOUG Will Swann Award for Innovation and Knowledge Development

I have been second supervisor for a further 15 OU PhD/MPhil students (Meredith Morrell, Pam Rowden, Calum McCune, Enda Farrell, Robert Farmer, Karl Wraight, Jon Dawson, Fraser Lewis, Vanessa Stround, Philip Davis, Ben Eves, Craig Powell, Rob Mundin, John Barker & Dave Lott) and acting supervisor for 2 OU PhD students (Becky Enoch & Amanda Smith) during maternity leave cover.

I have served as PhD/MPhil examiner for 12 OU students and 26 external students at institutions including: University College London, Southampton University, Leicester University, Keele University, Durham University, the University of Cape Town, Alicante University, Queens University Belfast, University of Hertfordshire, University of Warwick and University of Oxford.

Teaching interests

From 2008 until 2014 I was Associate Programme Director for Physics and Astronomy & Planetary Science, overseeing the content and presentation of the Physical Science curriculum at the OU, supported by Qualifications Manager, Gill Knight. I developed the Physics and Astronomy & Planetary Science pathways through the OU's BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences degree and led the process by which the Institute of Physics accredited a route through our qualifications suitable for students wishing to obtain Chartered Physicist status.

Here's a 2 minute video I made on "Why study physics?"

My teaching interests currently focus on:

  • Chairing the production of the Level 1 physics and astronomy module: SM123 Physics and Space which will be the first subject-specific core module for students following physics or astronomy & planetary science pathways through an OU degree.
  • Writing a Gaia case study as part of the production team & presentation team for S818 Space Science which forms the first module of the new MSc in Space Science and Technology.

In the past I have been involved with:

  • Chairing the production & first presentation of the core Level 2 physics module: S217 Physics: from Classical to Quantum
  • Writing & presenting the ARROW radio telescope activity for the module: SXPA288 Practical physics and astronomy
  • Chairing the presentation team for the core Level 2 physics module: S207 The Physical World
  • Acting as Course Director or Tutor at the residential Schools: SXR207  Physics by Experiment, SXR208 Observing the Universe, and SXR103 Practicing Science.
  • Chairing the production & presentation teams for both S382 AstrophysicsS383 The Relativistic Universe
  • Working as part of the production team for the Level 1 module S104 Exploring Science, where my book, entitled 'Quarks to Quasars', covers the physics of the very small and the very large - from particle physics to cosmology.
  • Developing the Astronomy and Planetary Science Practical module, SXR208 Observing the Universe, which ran at the Observatori Astronomic de Mallorca from 2004 - 2011.
  • S197 How the Universe Works (production & presentation chair);   S381 The Energetic Universe (production chair);   S207 The Physical World (Book 6 production chair);   S103 Discovering Science (Books 7 & 11 production chair);   ST291 Images and Information (presentation chair)

I served as External Examiner for the School of Physics and Astronomy at Manchester University from 2008 - 2011 and External Examiner for the School of Physics and Astronomy at Southampton University from 2012 - 2017. I have also acted as External Reviewer for material produced by Oxford University Department of Continuing Education (2011), carried out External Validation of the Observational Astronomy degree at the University of South Wales (2014), and was External Advisor on the approval panel for the “Gateway to Science” programme at Cornwall College for the provision approved by Plymouth University (2016).

Impact and engagement

I am coordinator for the UK Education and Public Outreach activity for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST:UK) and jointly with Carole Haswell, I am responsible for the materials and learning objects for the PLATO Education and Public Outreach Coordination Office in support of ESA's mission to discover rocky exoplanets in Earth-like orbits around Sun-like stars. I was deputy organiser of Carole's exhibit "Is there anybody out there? Looking for new worlds" at the 2008 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

Here are some cartoons I made with Stephen Serjeant and Dave Rothery on "60 second Adventures in Astronomy". They were nominated for an Arthur Award in 2013 and won a prize at the 36th annual TELLY Awards in 2015; they have now received over 500,000 individual views. Here's a 10-minute lecture on "Exoplanets and how to find them" that I presented as part of the OU's schools' christmas lectures in 2013. In 2011 I wrote a children's story book about exoplanets: "Oogle Flip and the Planet Adventure" which was a finalist in the 2012 Golden Duck Awards for excellence in children's science fiction literature.

I am a frequent Academic Consultant for OU/BBC astronomy co-productions. In the past these have included Stardate and The Cosmos: a Beginners Guide (both presented by Adam Hart Davies) as well as Bang Goes the Theory: the Drake Equation (presented by Dallas Campbell). I also supported the 2012 & 2013 series of StarGazing Live! (presented by Brian Cox & Dara O'Briain) and the programmes Light and Dark (presented by Jim Al Khalili).

My profile on OpenLearn includes many articles I've written including ones about the science of Dr. Who and Star Trek. I have also written several articles for The Conversation.

As part of the OU's outreach and public engagement activity aimed at widening participation in physics and astronomy amongst under-represented groups, I regularly present talks to schools and other youth groups, and to Astronomical societies, the U3A, the WI and other adult groups. I also give talks to other general audiences at science festivals and museums. If the audience meets the OU's criteria for widening participation, I am happy to give talks in "work time" on the basis of travel expenses alone; for other talks outside of OU business, please contact me about speaking fees. Currently I am able to offer the following presentations for general audiences:

  • Variable star research with SuperWASP: Suitable for astronomical societies with more experienced members, or more technical audiences, this talk gives a taste of current research proejcts using an all-sky stellar photometry archive.
  • XIPE: the history and future of X-ray astronomy: Suitable for astronomy societies, this talk presents a survey of the techniques and history of X-ray astronomy culminating in a look ahead to a planned X-ray astronomy mission for the next decade.
  • Gaia: mapping the Galaxy: A multimedia-rich lecture suitable for ages 16+ or for astronomical societies about the recently launched ESA mission Gaia which will map a billion stars in the Galaxy over the next five years.
  • Exoplanets and How to Find Them: A talk suitable for ages 16+ or for astronomical societies, or family audiences which explains how planets around other stars are detected and gives a brief summary of the recent discoveries in this area, including those from the SuperWASP project, of which I am part.
  • Gamma-ray Bursts: an astronomical detective story: A highly illustrated talk suitable for ages 16+ or for astronomical societies, which describes how the mystery of the origin of gamma-ray bursts was solved.
  • The New Cosmology or How the Universe Works: A highly illustrated talk suitable for ages 16+ or for astronomical societies, which describes the remarkable new theories concerning the origin and evolution of the Universe.

Erdos - Bacon - Sabbath number: 13

I have an Erdös number of no more than 4: I have co-authored with Lars Bildsten, who co-authored with George Djorgovski, who co-authored with Jogesh Babu, who co-authored with Paul Erdös.

I have a Bacon number of no more than 4: I have appeared on screen with Adam Hart Davis, who has appeared with Myleene Klass, who has appeared with Rhona Mitra, who has appeared with Kevin Bacon.

I have a (tenuous) Sabbath number of no more than 5: I played one note on my saxophone in an OU video `Seeing Inside the Sun' directed by Anne-Marie Gallen, who directed an OU programme `The Riddle of the Dome' narrated by Andrew Sachs, who was part of the cast recording of `Fawlty Towers' with John Cleese, who was in various `Monty Python' recordings with Eric Idle, who recorded the `Childrens Promise' charity album with Ozzy Osbourne, who of course was in Black Sabbath.

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Astronomy Research GroupGroupFaculty of Science
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)CentreFaculty of Science


Externally funded projects

Ogden Science Officer / Citizen Science Research Fellow

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Sep/201531/Aug/2018The Ogden Trust
The Ogden Trust is providing matched funding to a maximum of £75k for 3 years for an 0.5 FTE outreach post, that we can add to the ASTERICS post and can therefore recruit a full-time postdoctoral research assistant.

Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at the Open University

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Apr/201431/Mar/2017STFC (Science & Technology Facilities Council)
The aim of our programme in Astronomy & Planetary Science at the Open University (APSOU) is to carryout detailed investigations of the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planets with a special emphasis on our own Solar System through a combination of observation, simulation, laboratory analysis and theoretical modelling. Our research is divided into two broad areas, reflecting the historical research strengths. This research programme is well-matched to both nationally- and internationally-agreed research imperatives. In its final report, A Science Vision for European Astronomy2, Astronet’s Science Working Group identified four broad areas of strategic importance; our research covers major topics within each of these areas. APSOU projects also map onto two of the four Science Challenges that form STFC’s Road Map3 for science (‘How did the universe begin and how is it evolving?’ and ‘How do stars and planetary systems develop and is life unique to our planet?’). The present APSOU programme comprises 20 projects (labelled A to T), of which 6 are for consideration by the Astronomy Observation (AO) panel, 1 for Astronomy Theory (AT), and 13 for the Planetary Studies (PL) panel. The AO projects cover the breadth of the 7 themes recognised as UK strengths in the report of STFC’s Astronomy Advisory Panel (AAP), whilst the 13 PL projects are directed towards answering questions raised in two of the three themes identified as UK strengths in the roadmap of STFC’s Solar System Advisory Panel (SSAP)4.