School of Natural Sciences

I work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. My research specialises in exploring the rich hydrodynamic behaviour of warped astrophysical discs. These structures are everywhere in the universe!

As gravitationally bound material falls inwards, it tends to flatten out into a rotating disc, acting as a vast reservoir of angular momentum. However, any misalignment in the system may distort the coplanar disc into a warped configuration. For example, when the accretion flow onto the disc is misaligned or external torques are enacted by a tilted, spinning black hole or companion planet on an inclined orbit. The effect of this warp on the long term evolution of the disc is very important. Numerical simulations suggest in some cases the warp presents an anti-diffusive instability causing the disc to break. In other systems the external torques might tear the disc into separately precessing planes. Furthermore, the warped geometry is susceptible to a parametric instability which may drive turbulence affecting the warp evolution and mass accretion. All these processes feed into crucial questions about the planet forming environment in protoplanetary discs and the accretion processes driving energetic events around compact objects.

Observationally there is growing evidence for the ubiquity of these systems as shadows cast in the outer regions of protoplanetary discs are often explained by warped inner regions. Direct MASER imaging has also revealed the warped mid-plane in galactic centres. This problem spans all scales and demands careful analysis and numerical investigation. Check out my work to learn more and see how we are tackling these questions!


  • Parametric instability in warped astrophysical discs: growth, saturation and feedback | CW Fairbairn, GI Ogilvie - Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2023) (DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad211)

  • Density waves in protoplanetary discs excited by eccentric planets: linear theory | CW Fairbairn, RR Rafikov - Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2022) (DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stac2802)

  • Nonlinear resonant torus oscillations as a model of Keplerian disc warp dynamics | CW Fairbairn, GI Ogilvie – Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2021) (DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab2717)

  • Nonlinear dynamics of hydrodynamic tori as a model of oscillations and bending waves in astrophysical discs | CW Fairbairn, GI Ogilvie – Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2021) (DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab1554)

  • Eruptions and flaring activity in emerging quadrupolar regions | P Syntelis, EJ Lee, CW Fairbairn, V Archontis, AW Hood – Astronomy & Astrophysics (2019) 630, a134 (DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201936246)

  • Effects of hole-transport layer homogeneity in organic solar cells - A multi-length scale study HT Chien, M Pölzl, G Koller, S Challinger, C Fairbairn, I Baikie, M Kratzer, C Teichert, B Friedel – Surfaces and Interfaces (2017) 6, 72 (DOI: 10.1016/j.surfin.2016.11.008)

Conferences and Talks

2023Thursday Seminar | IASTalk
Bachall Lunch | IASTalk
Planet Formation Meeting | CCA FlatironTalk
LCLU Science Day | University of CambridgeTalk
LCLU Streaming instability and planet formation | University of CambridgeCoffee Morning
2022Emerging Research Seminar Series | Christ's CollegeSeminar
Introduction to cosmochemistry and planet formation | University of CopenhagenWorkshop
Dustbusters Protoplanetary Discs | MilanSummer School
Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems | CPT - TübingenTalk and Poster
2021St Andrews Solar Magnetospheric Theory GroupInvited seminar
Distorted Astrophysical Discs | Kavli CambridgePoster and LOC
2020Summer School Protoplanetary discs | MPIA HeidelbergStudent

Teaching and Outreach Experience

  • 2022 - Now | Astrofluids Group Journal Club Organiser
  • 2021 - Now | Astrofluids Group Seminar Organising Committee
  • 2021 - Now | Cambridge Hands on Science (CHaOS) Public Outreach Volunteer
  • 2019 - 2021 | Natural Sciences Mathematics 1A Supervisor
  • 2018 - 2019 | Vector Calculus tutor