The Intergalactic Medium (IGM) is the dominant reservoir of matter in the Universe from which the cosmic web and galaxies form. The structure and physical state of the IGM provides insight into the cosmological model of the Universe, the origin and timeline of the reionization of the Universe, as well as being an essential ingredient in our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution. Our primary handle on this information is a signal known as the Lyman-alpha forest (or Ly-alpha forest) -- the collection of absorption features in high-redshift sources due to intervening neutral hydrogen, which scatters HI Ly-alpha photons out of the line of sight. The Ly-alpha forest flux traces density fluctuations at high redshift and at moderate overdensities, making it an excellent tool for mapping large-scale structure and constraining cosmological parameters. Although the computational methodology for simulating the Ly-alpha forest has existed for over a decade, we are just now approaching the scale of computing power required to simultaneously capture large cosmological scales and the scales of the smallest absorption systems. My thesis focuses on using simulations at the edge of modern computing to produce precise predictions of the statistics of the Ly-alpha forest and to better understand the structure of the IGM.
In the first part of my thesis, I review the state of hydrodynamic simulations of the IGM, including pitfalls of the existing under-resolved simulations. Our group developed a new cosmological hydrodynamics code to tackle the computational challenge, and I developed a distributed analysis framework to compute flux statistics from our simulations. I present flux statistics derived from a suite of our large hydrodynamic simulations and demonstrate convergence to the per cent level. I also compare flux statistics derived from simulations using different discretizations and hydrodynamic schemes (Eulerian finite volume vs. smoothed particle hydrodynamics) and discuss differences in their convergence behavior, their overall agreement, and the implications for cosmological constraints.
In the second part of my thesis, I present a tomographic reconstruction method that allows us to make 3D maps of the IGM with Mpc resolution. In order to make reconstructions of large surveys computationally feasible, I developed a new Wiener Filter application with an algorithm specialized to our problem, which significantly reduces the space and time complexity compared to previous implementations. I explore two scientific applications of the maps: finding protoclusters by searching the maps for large, contiguous regions of low flux and finding cosmic voids by searching the maps for regions of high flux. Using a large N-body simulation, I identify and characterize both protoclusters and voids at z = 2.5, in the middle of the redshift range being mapped by ongoing surveys. I provide simple methods for identifying protocluster and void candidates in the tomographic flux maps, and then test them on mock surveys and reconstructions. I present forecasts for sample purity and completeness and other scientific applications of these large, high-redshift objects.