Large surveys of quasars are underway, such as SDSS-3 BOSS, that will provide a large set of quasar spectra. Even one such quasar spectrum contains an array of information, such as the Lyman-alpha forest that offers a map of the cosmological density field and provides hundreds of pixels of independent information. The project presents a coherent program that will build up a picture of the state of the intergalactic medium at high redshifts and its relationship and probe of cosmology. Large cosmological hydrodynamic simulations will be used to make predictions for observational measurements and to devise and test analysis techniques to be applied to data. Five aspects of the intergalactic matter field will be covered: the neutral medium, the ionized hydrogen field, the mass density field, the radiation field, and the temperature field.
This project will provide insight into the physics of the intergalactic medium, with its relationship to star and galaxy formation, as well as cosmology. The proposed work is not possible with smaller data sets and represents something new, and the potential future continuation with data from even larger surveys is clear. In addition, the sheer size of the data set will have a broad impact on the way spectroscopy is viewed, moving the study and mapping of the intergalactic medium into the realm of large-scale data mining. This work will push the development of software tools there were not previously necessary when analysis of quasar spectra involved only a small number of objects
Educationally, this project will assist the education of undergraduate and graduate students, and the results will be incorporated into an ongoing outreach program working with middle school students from minorities underrepresented in science.