Born in Ipswich, Professor Smith was educated in England and Australia before obtaining a first class honours degree in Mathematics from Imperial College, London, in 1976, and a doctorate in Astrophysics from the University of Oxford in 1979. He went on to work at higher education institutions in Illinois, Maryland and Iowa, USA; Leicester Edinburgh and Armagh in the UK, Leiden, The Netherlands, Trieste, Italy and Heidelberg in Germany, where he held a von Humboldt Fellowship.
Professor Smith is an Associate of The Royal College of Science, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the International Astronomical Union.
- Star and planet formation: attempts to track the evolution of individual protostellar systems through their early phases, now using radio and Herschel infrared data to track massive star evolution.
- Turbulence: having been the first to demonstrate that supersonic turbulence decays rapidly, Professor Smith and colleagues have recently demonstrated that molecules also form rapidly.
- Jets: from the first sophisticated analysis of extragalactic jets to the detailed predictions for Spitzer infrared images and spectroscopy of protostellar jets.
- Shock waves: a series of papers on the theory of magnetohydrodynamic shocks in molecular and atomic media.
- Wide-field astronomy: attempts to understand how giant clouds and embedded protostars evolve, through broad-band photometry and narrow-band molecular hydrogen outflows, based on degree scale infrared surveys of regions in Cygnus, Orion, DR21, rho Ophiuchi and the Rosette Complex.
- Narrow-field: high resolution near-infrared observations and their interpretation in terms of jet simulations and bow shock molecular physics.
- Molecular hydrogen: exploring the behaviour of the most abundant molecule in the universe.
Professor Smith has developed and delivered lecture courses at all levels, from Astronomy 101 classes of over 300 undergraduate students in Iowa to specialist courses for postgraduate students in Trieste. At present, he teaches workshop modules on Multiwavelength Astronomy and Physics Research Methods, and lectures on electromagnetism, exoplanets, galaxies and general relativity.
- Director, Centre for Astrophysics & Planetary Science, 2005-2019
- Director of Research, SEPnet, 2011-present
- Director of the Space School, University of Kent, 2007-present
- Faculty Director of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Sciences, 2010-present
- Sub-Dean, Faculty of Sciences, 2010-present
- Chair, Executive Board of Graduate Studies, Physical Sciences, 2007-present
- Chair, SEPnet-Astro, 2009-2011
- Director of Graduate Studies, Physical Sciences, 2007-2010
- Author, The Origin of Stars, 2004