Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Charles T. Liu

Subject Categories

Astrophysics and Astronomy | Physics


active galactic nuclei, galaxy evolution, infrared-bright galaxies, SED-fitting, starburst galaxies


The evolutionary connection between nuclear starbursts and active galactic nuclei (AGN) in luminous infrared galaxies (LIRGs; 1011o

Using new spectrophotometric data, I classify the primary source of IR radiation as being a nuclear starburst or a type of AGN by using the Baldwin-Phillips-Terlevich (BPT) diagrams. I show that for the U/LIRGs in my sample the properties that describe their nuclear starbursts and AGN (e.g. star formation rate (SFR), L[O III], optical D parameter, D4000, and EW(Hδ)) are independent of one another, ensuring that no biases affect correlations between these properties and objects' locations on the BPT diagrams. I then derive evolutionary paths on the BPT diagram involving [N II]/Hα that are based on how these properties vary between two U/LIRGs positioned at the end-points. The paths involve U/LIRGs that decrease in SFR and increase in AGN activity. Paths with U/LIRGs that evolve into high luminosity AGN likely do so due to recent, strong starbursts.

Second, to study how the properties of the IR power sources in U/LIRGs vary, I use a combination of photometric data points that I carefully measure (using photometry from SDSS, 2MASS, WISE, and Spitzer) and that I retrieve from catalogues (IRAS, AKARI, and ISO) to perform UV to FIR SED-fitting with CIGALE (Code Investigating GALaxy Emission) for 34 U/LIRGs from the IRAS 2 Jy Redshift Survey with 0.01 < z < 0.16. CIGALE allows for the estimation of numerous physical properties by means of a Bayesian-like analysis, but for this work I focus on derived outputs for the SFR, AGN contribution, D4000, stellar mass (Mstar), young stellar population age (i.e. the age of the most recent starburst activity), starburst mass fraction, luminosity absorbed by dust, and stellar mass-weighted age. Comparing the properties of the IR power sources in U/LIRGs with age-related properties provides clues as to which type of IR power source forms first and how starburst age varies with starburst/AGN strength.

I find evidence that the nuclear starburst forms first in U/LIRGs, and also find that U/LIRGs with relatively similar SFRs show increased AGN activity if they are older. However, I also find that a young U/LIRG can show a relatively large amount of AGN activity if a very large starburst is present. Then, I quantify the timescales at which the starburst activity in my U/LIRGs evolves with the use of the Tukey-Kramer method of statistical analysis, and fit an exponential curve to the data to describe the expected amount of decrease in SFR seen for a U/LIRG in my sample over a given change in starburst age. Finally, I find evidence that the stellar mass and starburst mass fractions influence whether a U/LIRG in my sample will have a strong AGN and SFR, respectively. I compare the SFR-Mstar relationship seen in my sample with those predicted by models and found from previous observations. I find that the U/LIRGs with older starbursts (>125 Myr) agree with previous results, while those with younger starbursts show a large dispersion in Mstar. I conclude that this is supporting evidence that the star formation histories and timescales at which the IR power sources in U/LIRGs evolve are responsible for the scatter found for the SFR-Mstar relationship.

U/LIRGs that form from merging gas-rich disk galaxies could also represent a stage of galaxy evolution involving heavy formation of globular clusters (GCs). It has been suggested that a large number of stellar clusters form during the merging of two gas-rich disk galaxies, leading to open and young massive clusters with the latter likely evolving into GCs. Furthering our understanding of GC formation can uncover the connection between GCs and their host galaxies, which could, at some point during their formation or evolution, be U/LIRGs. To understand GC formation in the context of hierarchical galaxy formation, it is necessary to understand the origin of their abundance patterns. To this effort, I use SDSS spectra from Data Release 8 and 9 to estimate carbon (C) abundances for five GCs by matching synthetic spectra, created with TURBOSPECTRUM using atmospheric parameters derived from the Segue Stellar Parameter Pipeline, with observed spectra at the CH G-band feature. I find large spreads in the C abundances throughout the color magnitude diagrams of the GCs, which serves as evidence for multiple stellar populations, in contrast to standard models of GC formation.