PhD Projects 2018

Below is a list of PhD projects being offered in 2018. The list will be continuously updated over time.

Please click on a project title to expand it and find out more about it. The associated contact name refers to the first supervisor and forms the start of their email address, e.g. "Contact: Joe.Bloggs" refers to email address

You are welcome to contact a member of staff to find out more about their project. Alternatively, you are welcome to discuss other project ideas you may have.

All of the projects listed below are eligible for funding through the general pool of funding schemes listed on our funding page. Some projects marked as "Allocated funding" carry specific gauranteed funding attached to the project. Applicants for "allocated funding" projects will be assessed and shortlisted separately from the general pool.

For details on the application process and of application deadlines please refer to the Postgraduate Study page.

  • C-Band All-Sky Survey - Understand the high-frequency radio sky

    Supervisors: Prof. Clive Dickinson, Dr. Paddy Leahy

    Contact: Clive.Dickinson

    Project Description: The C-Band All-Sky Survey (C-BASS) is a novel radio astronomy project to map the entire sky at 5 GHz on large scales in intensity and polarization. The final maps will be an important legacy survey for the entire astronomical community. The data will be used to study the diffuse Galactic emission such as supernova remnants and molecular clouds, as well as a vital foregrounds template for cosmology surveys. C-BASS data will be important for searching for gravitational waves from the early Universe using CMB polarization data, where foregrounds contaminate the weak cosmological signal. Observations are being made using two 5m class dishes, one located in northern California and one in the Karoo, South Africa. The northern survey is almost ready while the southern survey is just starting. The student will join the C-BASS team (in collaboration with Caltech, JPL, University of Oxford, and the University of Rhodes) to understand and calibrate the data and make the final maps. The data will then be used for a variety of scientific analyses before dissemination to the astronomical community.

  • Constraining the physics of the early Universe with the Simons Observatory

    Supervisor: Michael Brown

    Contact: M.L.Brown

    Project description: The Simons Observatory is a next generation Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) telescope to be located in Chile. The Simons Observatory’s primary goal is to detect a very specific pattern in the polarisation of the CMB radiation (termed “B-modes”) which will provide a unique observational window into the very early Universe and physics at GUT-scale energies. As part of our group you will have the opportunity to get involved with this state-of-the-art CMB experiment in a number of areas including investigating the best scanning strategies to use when conducting the observations and developing sophisticated analysis techniques to extract the extremely faint B-mode signal from the experimental data. This project would suit a student with keen analytic and computational skills.

  • Understanding Dark Energy with weak lensing surveys

    Supervisor: Michael Brown

    Contact: M.L.Brown

    Project description: The JBCA cosmology group is leading the SuperCLASS survey on the e-MERLIN and Lovell telescopes located at Jodrell Bank. The primary goal of SuperCLASS is to develop the emerging field of weak lensing using radio telescopes and our group is leading this work for SuperCLASS. In particular, we are pioneering new weak lensing analysis techniques for radio interferometers and for measuring optical-radio cross-correlation weak lensing signals. Ultimately these techniques will be used to help understand the physics of Dark Energy using data from the Square Kilometre Array, both on its own and in cross-correlation with future optical surveys using the ground-based LSST and Euclid satellite experiments. This project would suit a student with keen analytic and computational skills.

  • Next Generation Hydrodynamic Simulations of Galaxy Clusters

    Supervisor: Scott Kay

    Contact: Scott.Kay

    Project description: Galaxy clusters are interesting objects to study for two reasons. Firstly, they teach us about galaxy formation: their extreme environment causes galaxies to evolve more rapidly than in the field, as gravitational and hydrodynamic processes strip off a galaxy’s gas supply and starve them of fuel for further star formation and black hole growth. Secondly, as the largest gravitationally bound objects in the Universe, the galaxy cluster distribution is a sensitive probe of dark matter and dark energy. As part of the international Virgo Consortium, we are leading a state-of-the-art cluster simulation project where we are now able to resolve the cluster galaxy population in detail. These simulations are currently being used to further our understanding of the above two topics. Over the next few years, the next generation of computing facilities will allow us to run these simulations with even more detail and thus allow us to improve the realism of our simulations further. The aim of this project will be for the student to participate in the development of these next-generation simulations, particularly improving the cluster physics modelling (e.g. star formation and feedback processes, hydrodynamics, magnetic fields) and testing the models against a wide range of multi-wavelength observational data. Example areas of study include the triggering of AGN and the interaction of their outflows with the hot intracluster gas, and how star formation in galaxies is affected they move through the cluster.

  • Beads on a String: The formation of massive stars by filamentary accretion (Allocated funding)

    Supervisor: Rowan Smith

    Contact: Rowan.Smith

    Project description: Observations by the Herschel space telescope have shown that molecular clouds, the stellar nurseries of our galaxy, are threaded by long filaments of dense molecular gas in which stars form at regular intervals like beads on a string. Understanding this process has important implications for all of astronomy, as the number and masses of stars formed in a galaxy will affect it’s evolution when the massive stars explode in supernovae explosions. Moreover, as planets form around stars, it will also affect the types of planetary systems that can be formed.

    This PhD project will use cutting edge numerical simulations of filamentary molecular clouds that include chemistry and magnetic fields to investigate to investigate such structures. We will investigate the formation of the filaments, and how they fragment into stars. In particular we will test how flows of mass along the filaments can lead to the formation of massive stars (greater than 8 solar masses) that will go supernovae when they die. A crucial part of the project will be to make critical comparison of the predictions of the above models with observational data in terms of observable quantities seen by instruments such as ALMA using post-process radiative transfer calculations. This means the student will learn to use both theoretical and observational techniques throughout their PhD thesis.

    Projects offered by Dr Rowan Smith will include one gauranteed 3.5 year studentship.

  • How do galaxies form stellar nurseries throughout cosmic time? (Allocated funding)

    Supervisor: Rowan Smith

    Contact: Rowan.Smith

    Project description: Stars form in dense clouds of molecular gas in galaxies, but how the formation of these clouds and the stars within them depend on conditions within the galaxy is still unknown. In spiral galaxies, are clouds formed in the dense spiral arms more efficient at making stars, than in regions between the arms? Are molecular clouds the same in small irregular galaxies dominated by supernovae as in spiral galaxies? How does all this change in starburst galaxies where there is more energetic feedback from the forming stars? These questions are particularly important for galaxies at earlier cosmic times which are likely to be quite different to our current Milky Way.

    In this project we will use ground-breaking high-resolution simulations of how molecular gas evolves in galaxies to answer these questions, and investigate how star formation may proceed in other galaxies beyond our Milky Way. We will vary quantities such as the galactic potential, gas surface density, stellar feedback and abundance of chemical coolants in the gas, to examine how star formation may differ in other environments such as those found at earlier cosmic times. For this project, previous experience of programming and running large simulations would be beneficial, but is not absolutely necessary as the student will learn the necessary techniques throughout the project.

    Projects offered by Dr Rowan Smith will include one gauranteed 3.5 year studentship.

  • What can we learn from future measurements of the Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect? (Allocated funding)

    Supervisors: Jens Chluba and Scott Kay

    Contact: Jens.Chluba

    Project description: Clusters of galaxies are the largest collapsed structures in our Universe, typically hosting many hundreds of individual galaxies and being filled with a hot (several million degrees), X-ray emitting plasma. As such, clusters can be used to probe the formation and growth of structures at the largest cosmological scales. This allows one to constrain important cosmological parameters and answer equations about dark matter and dark energy, both mysterious substances that together are known to make up some ~94% of the energy density of our Universe.

    Clusters have been studied using optical and X-ray observations and many hundreds are now also detected through the so-called Sunyaev-Zeldovich (SZ) effect (e.g., using the Planck satellite). The SZ effect is caused by the up-scattering of photons from the cosmic microwave background (CMB) by the hot electron plasma residing inside galaxy clusters. Utilizing the SZ signal for cosmological studies requires understanding the relations of the signal to the underlying structure of the medium.

    In this PhD project, we will study what one can learn about the cosmological structure formation process by combining future SZ measurements with X-ray observations. High-resolution/sensitivity SZ observations will be carried out as part of the next steps in CMB cosmology (e.g., using CCAT-prime and Stage-IV CMB) and also new X-ray observations will become available soon (e.g., e-Rosita and Athena). This will open up many novel avenues for exciting studies of individual clusters and their role in cosmology, a broad topic that is targeted by this project.

    This project has specific gauranteed funding for four years from the Royal Society

  • Variability in Astrophysical Masers

    Supervisor: Malcolm Gray

    Contact: Malcolm.Gray

    Project description: Astrophysical masers are known to vary on timescales from minutes to decades,
    depending greatly on source type and molecular species. Most of this variability is of
    fairly low amplitude and/or slow. However, there are, in addition, flaring events, where
    the maser flux density, as measured by a single-dish radio telescope, changes by
    orders of magnitude on a timescale of typically days to months. Flares may be periodic,
    aperiodic or pseudo-periodic, and there is at least one example where flares in two
    different maser species, water and methanol, are coupled in a periodic, mutually
    exclusive flaring pattern. Long-term monitoring of two methanol maser frequencies
    by a single-dish radio telescope (Goedhart et al. 2004) has demonstrated the enormous
    variety of variability behaviour.

    A new 3D maser code will be applied to the flaring problem, to generate synthetic
    light curves that can be compared with observations. Likely scenarios that can be
    tested with the code are rotation of irregular objects, line-of-sight overlap of masing
    clouds, clusters of objects orbiting in discs, and maser sources pumped by periodic
    episodes of infra-red irradiation.

  • Computational Models of Astrophysical Masers

    Supervisor: Malcolm Gray

    Contact: Malcolm.Gray

    Project description: New interferometric instruments such as ALMA have enabled us to produce detailed
    images of masers in the 100-GHz to 1-THz region for the first time. Single-dish
    instruments, such as the aircraft-mounted SOFIA, are opening up an observing window at
    frequencies above 1-THz. We need computational models of methanol, ammonia,
    formaldehyde and water masers in star-forming regions, evolved stars and external
    galaxies to test our understanding of these new observations. The project
    involves two types of modelling: The first type is parameter-space searching, where
    the non-LTE radiative transfer problem is solved in a fairly straightforward model
    many times over a wide range of physical conditions. This allows us to identify the
    optimum conditions for amplification in the observed maser lines, and to select
    transitions for new observations by SOFIA. The second type of model involves more
    sophisticated simulation of specific sources, for example the red supergiant star VY
    CMa, which has now been imaged by ALMA in the 321, 325 and 658GHz water maser
    lines. Since the number of water maser lines comfortably exceeds the number of
    formal free parameters in the computer models, it may be possible to attempt the
    inverse problem for masers, where physical conditions are inferred from brightness
    ratios at the highest spatial resolutions, corresponding to co-propagation of masers at
    different frequencies.

  • Next-Gen modelling for high-precision exoplanet microlensing surveys

    Supervisor: Eamonn Kerins

    Contact: Eamonn.Kerins

    Project description: Galactic microlensing describes the small-scale distortion and magnification of starlight by foreground stars and planets in our Galaxy. It is a technique that is being used to detect cool, low-mass exoplanets. Such planets are predicted to remain at the orbital distances at which they form and so microlensing samples provide a direct probe of planet formation

    Manchester is a World leader in the development of detailed microlensing models that predict the frequency, distribution and duration of microlensing events. Comparison of such models to large datasets allows us to probe the exoplanet occurrence rate, including the occurrence of planets unbound to a host star (so-called free-floating planets - or FFPs). The models also allow us to test the relative plausibility of multiple degenerate microlensing lightcurve fits to individual exoplanet candidates.

    A project is available for a student to further develop the Manchester-Besancon microlensing Simulator (MaBuls - Possible developments and uses include:

    • the ability to provide predictions for simultaneous observations from ground- and space-based telescopes, which can facilitate direct mass measurements.
    • incorporation of additional Galactic physics such as improved models of the Galactc bulge, 3D extinction maps, the low-mass stellar mass function, stellar binarity.
    • detailed comparison with enlarged published microlensing datasets, as well as comparison of subsets exhibiting higher-order effects (finite source events, parallax/xallerap events, ...)
    • Galactic prior modeling of individual microlensing exoplanet canddates with degenerate lightcurve solutions.

    The project will involve substantial programming in Python and the use of state-of-the-art (and continuously evolving) Galaxy simulation models.

  • Studying Large-Scale Structure using Intensity Mapping of CO at High Redshifts

    Supervisors: Clive Dickinson and Stuart Harper

    Contact: Clive.Dickinson

    Project description: Intensity mapping is a recently proposed method of efficiently mapping the emission of single spectral lines across cosmological volumes. Proposals for intensity mapping have been made using many different species such as atomic HI, CII, Lyman-N1, CO, amongst others. All the lines can be used to study the large-scale structures of galaxies and clusters, which trace the evolution of the baryonic matter density and cosmic expansion. As CO is predominantly found within the dark, cold cores of star forming nebulae, CO predominantly traces star forming galaxies, which means it can also be used to measure the star formation history of the Universe.

    The CO intensity mapping experiment called COMAP is planning to use the intensity mapping technique to map out a large volume of the Universe. The pathfinder instrument with 19 detectors is currently being constructed and commissioned at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) in California and should be making regular observations in 2018. COMAP will probe the redshift range of 2 < z < 3, which is during the epoch of peak of cosmic star formation. However, measuring the cosmological CO signal is expected to be challenging due to mixing of the signal with bright Galactic emission, turbulence within the atmosphere, instabilities of the instrumentation and the interaction of optical systems with the sky and surrounding environment. To overcome these challenges has required building a detailed end-to-end simulation of the COMAP experiment.

    The student will be involved in COMAP experiment, which is an international collaboration between Manchester, Caltech, JPL, Stanford, and Oslo. The project offers an opportunity to become involved in an exciting field of cosmological research that is still in its infancy. The thrust of the project will be to run simulations of the COMAP observations that will be critical in determining the specifications of the instrumentation and designing data analysis methods for recovering the cosmological CO signal. As such, the project offers a lot freedom in the topic or topics the student wishes to pursue, from instrumentation, atmospheric science, Galactic emission, cosmology, and advanced data analysis methods; depending on interest and experience of the student.

  • Receiver cryogenics development for the Simons Observatory

    Supervisor: Lucio Piccirillo

    Contact: Lucio.Piccirillo

    Project description: The Simons Observatory (SO) is a forthcoming project to measure the polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background with unprecedented sensitivity. The principal science goal is measurement of the B-mode polarization anisotropy which, at large angular scales, would constitute direct evidence for inflation. SO will be comprised of two main elements, a six-meter aperture telescope and a series of half-meter aperture cameras. The unique combination of large and small apertures will allow SO to cover a wide range of angular scales.

    Manchester is heavily involved in the SO collaboration, particularly in cryogenic and thermo-optical design of the LATR receiver. This receiver is coupled to the SO 6 m cross-Dragone telescope and will be approximately 2.4 m in diameter, greater than 2 m in length, weigh over 3 metric tons, and have five cryogenic stages (80 K, 40 K, 4 K, 1 K and 100 mK). The LATR is coupled to the telescope via 13 independent optics tubes containing cryogenic optical elements and over 20000 detectors. Given the size and complexity of the receiver, cryogenic design is exceptionally challenging.

    The student will be heavily involved in the cryogenic and thermo-optical design, modelling, development, realisation and experimental testing of the LATR receiver.

  • Low Noise Amplifiers for High Frequency Radio Astronomy

    Supervisors: G. Fuller (School of Physics & Astronomy), D. George (School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering)

    Contact: G.Fuller

    Low noise amplifiers (LNAs) are critical components of receivers for radio
    telescopes. They offer a number of important advantages over competing
    technologies such as operating at 20K rather than 4K as well as being better
    suited for use in large scale imaging array receivers. Recent advances in
    technology have allowed the development of LNAs which operate at much higher
    frequencies than previously possible.

    The goal of this PhD project is to produce high performance, wide bandwidth,
    LNAs at frequencies of up to 300 GHz, and beyond, for use in both single pixel
    and array receivers on the worlds biggest telescopes. The project will build
    on our recent work in designing and implementing a world-leading LNA for a new
    receiver band on the ALMA telescope (, the world's
    largest telescope operating at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths.
    There will also be opportunities to work on LNAs at lower frequencies for the
    new generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA;

    The project will involve collaborating with partners at CalTech/JPL, as well
    as commercial companies, on the design, fabrication and testing of monolithic
    microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) LNA noise amplifiers. This may involve a
    placement at CalTech/JPL. There may also be the opportunity to work with new
    novel materials such as graphene and related 2-D materials to produce
    transistor for future, high performance generations of LNAs.

    Depending on the skills and interest of the student, there may also be the
    opportunity to improve our understanding of the performance of these devices
    through studying the solid state physics of the device materials and
    processing. In addition, there may be the opportunity to contribute to the
    design, integration, testing and deployment of complete receiver systems for
    operation on a range of radio telescopes.

    Further reading

    Celestial Signals: Are Low-Noise Amplifiers the Future for Millimeter-Wave
    Radio Astronomy Receivers? David Cuadrado-Calle; Danielle George; Brian
    Ellison; Gary A. Fuller; Keiran Cleary, IEEE Microwave Magazine Year: 2017,
    Volume: 18, Issue: 6 Pages: 90 - 99

  • Variable Radio Sources as Probes of Accretion and Outflow in Star Forming Regions

    Supervisor: G. Fuller

    Contact: G. Fuller

    Understanding how young stars gain their ultimate mass requires tracking the
    flow of matter from the dense cores in which the stars form, through the
    circumstellar disk and down onto the surface of the accreting

    For low mass stars it is known that the accretion from the circumstellar disk
    on to the protostar occurs along magnetic flux tubes. This can produce
    variable emission at wavelengths from the x-ray, through the infrared and
    optical to the radio. Variable emission can also arise from bursts of outflow
    which themselves may be stimulated by an accretion event. In addition, a range
    of other mechanisms such as magnetospheric interaction with companion sources
    can also contribute. Numerical simulations show episodic accretion on to young
    massive stars also produces variable radio emission as the ionizing flux of
    the protostar changes during accretion events.

    This PhD project will involve making and analyzing radio and submillimetre
    observations of star forming regions in our galaxy to identify and study
    sources of variable emission. The results of the observations will be compared
    with numerical simulations to constrain the origin of the variable emission
    and the properties of the sources. These observations will be used to
    constrain the accretion history of young stars. Looking to the future, this
    project will provide important techniques and results for designing deep
    surveys of the variable radio emission from stellar clusters with the Square
    Kilometre Array (SKA; to constrain models for the formation
    of stellar clusters.

  • Filamentary Molecular Clouds and Their Role in Massive Star Formation

    Supervisor: G. Fuller

    Contact: G.Fuller

    Much of the gas and dust in the interstellar medium is organised in to
    filamentary structures. These filaments span a factor of more than 1000 in
    size scale from filaments tracing the spiral arms of our galaxy, the so-called
    galactic bones, down to filaments apparently feeding matter down onto
    individual star forming cores. The most extreme dense clumps, which are the
    precursors to massive stars and their associated stellar clusters, often
    appear embedded in massive filaments, suggestive of mass flow along the
    filament being a key process in the formation of these regions.

    This project will use a range of observations from telescopes such as
    Herschel, JCMT and ALMA ( to study the properties of
    the gas and dust in filaments in the interstellar medium and the dense clumps
    associated with them. The observations will be used to probe the structure of
    the filaments, their origin and evolution and their relationship with the
    clumps within them. This will involve the detailed comparison of recent
    numerical simulations with observations of filaments.

  • Dust Polarization to Probe the Magnetic Field in Massive Star Forming Regions

    Supervisor: G. Fuller

    Contact: G.Fuller

    Magnetic fields are ubiquitous in the interstellar medium. However there is
    considerable uncertainty about their role and importance in the formation and
    evolution of star-forming clumps. Observations of the polarized emission from
    the dust in the interstellar medium can directly trace the geometry of the
    magnetic field and, using new analysis techniques, constrain its role in the
    the collapse of clouds. Combined with molecular line observations these
    polarization maps can also provide an estimate of the field strength.

    This PhD project will involve using JCMT POL-2 observations of the polarized
    emission from dust in a well selected sample of massive infrared dark clouds
    (IRDCs) which exhibit a range of geometries. IRDCs are ideal objects to probe
    the role of magnetic fields in the formation and collapse of clouds as IRDCs
    are, by definition, not (yet) dominated by the feedback from massive stars
    which can rapidly erase the imprint of the initial conditions in the
    region. The project will study the relationship between the polarization and
    inferred magnetic field and the geometry of the IRDCs and their kinematics to
    probe how these regions form and how they will collapse to form massive
    stars. The project will also involve comparing the observations to the results
    of detailed numerical simulations as well as making additional follow-up
    observations using a range of telescopes including ALMA.

    The project will be carried out in collaboration with colleagues at Institute
    of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

  • Connecting Star Formation in the Starburst Galaxy NGC253 and Star Forming Regions in the Milky Way Using The ALCHEMI Large Programme on ALMA

    Supervisor: G. Fuller

    Contact: G.Fuller

    Starburst galaxies form stars at a rate 10 to 100 time higher than in our
    galaxy. To date our understanding of the origin and consequence of such high
    star formation rates has been limited by the low sensitivity and angular
    resolution available to study the molecular gas out of which the stars
    form. ALMA (, the world's largest radio telescope, has
    radically changed this situation, offer the possibility for detailed studies
    of the molecular gas in starburst galaxies for the first time. ALCHEMI is a
    recently approved large observing programme on ALMA which will provide high
    angular and high spectral resolution images of the central region of the
    starburst galaxy NGC253. The data will span several ALMA frequency bands
    providing an un-rival view of the chemical and physical properties of the star
    forming regions in this galaxy. These data will provide the baseline template
    for studies of starburst galaxies for years to come.

    This PhD will involve using date from ALCHEMI to study the chemical and
    physical properties of the star forming regions in NGC253 and compare their
    properties with those of star forming region in our galaxy. The goal of the
    project is to understand whether starburst represent a different mode of star
    formation from that seen in our galaxies or whether starbursts are just the
    most extreme examples in a continuum of properties. In addition to analysis of
    the ALCHEMI data, this project will involve acquiring addition complementary
    observations with ALMA and other telescopes.

  • Data science for the study of gravitational waves with high precision pulsar timing

    Supervisor: Michael Keith

    Contact: Michael.Keith

    Description: Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars which sweep out beams of radiation along the poles of their extremely strong magnetic fields. We observe a pulse of radio waves from the pulsar each time its beam of emission sweeps across the Earth. The most rapidly rotating pulsars, which have spin periods of a few milliseconds, act as incredibly stable clocks and can be used in experiments of gravitational physics. We are working as part of a large international collaboration, the European Pulsar Timing Array, to detect gravitational waves from supermassive black-hole binaries at the centre of distant galaxies. This is complimentary to the gravitational wave observations done by the LIGO collaboration for which the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded.

    This PhD project involves developing robust statistical data analysis techniques to improve the pulsar timing array sensitivity by better understanding the various noise processes in the data. These processes are themselves interesting topics of study, covering processes fundamental to the pulsar itself as well as allowing for study of the turbulent interstellar plasma that lies between us and the pulsar.

    Applicants may also be interested in the possibility to get involved in pulsar timing with the new MeerKAT telescope in South Africa.

  • Pulsar timing with MeerTime on the new MeerKAT radio telescope

    Supervisors: Michael Keith and Patrick Weltevrede

    Contact: Michael.Keith

    Project description: Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars which sweep out beams of radiation along the poles of their extremely strong magnetic fields. We observe a pulse of radio waves from the pulsar each time its beam of emission sweeps across the Earth. The most rapidly rotating pulsars, which have spin periods of a few milliseconds, provide insight into a wide range of physics and astrophysics, ranging from studies of general relativity, understanding the turbulent interstellar medium, unlocking the complex physics of the pulsar magnetosphere, or studying the superfluid interior of neutron stars.

    This project involves joining the MeerTime team to observe and study pulsars with the new MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. MeerKAT will be one of the most powerful radio telescopes on Earth and you will be involved in two large observational projects on MeerKAT. Firstly, the “1000-pulsar array” is a project to regularly observe essentially all pulsars visible from the MeerKAT site, giving a wealth of new data to better understand the pulsar population. Secondly is a high-precision pulsar timing array, which will perform observations best pulsars to determine the pulse arrival times to a precision of less than 100 nanoseconds. This data will be used for gravitational wave detection projects, as well as extreme precision pulsar studies.

  • Discovering Pulsars and FRBs with the SUPERB survey

    Supervisor: Michael Keith

    Contact: Michael.Keith

    Project description: A hot topic in the field of time-domain radio astronomy is the recent discovery of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs). These are individual pulses of radio emission that appear to come from the distant universe. The origin of FRBs is still unknown, but believed to be related to some highly energetic phenomenon such as the collapse of a neutron star into a black hole. We are involved in several surveys to detect more FRBs, including the SUPERB survey using the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Parkes has been responsible for the discovery of more than half of all known pulsars, and the SUPERB survey continues this legacy with the discovery of new FRBs and Pulsars. The discoveries of surveys like SUPERB directly lead to new understanding of the pulsar and FRB populations.

    This project will involve joining the SUPERB team to conduct observations and perform data analysis to discover new pulsars and FRBs. You will also work on the detailed study of the discoveries, which may be exciting individual objects or larger population studies depending on the discoveries made by the survey.

    Applicants may also be interested in helping to develop pulsar search strategies for future telescopes such as the SKA.

  • Machine learning modelling of pulsar timing behaviours

    Supervisors: Rene Breton and Michael Keith

    Contact: Rene.Breton

    Project description: Neutron stars are some of the most exotic objects populating our Universe: they have extreme densities, the largest known magnetic fields and the fastest observed rotations of any other known object. This PhD project aims to investigate some outstanding behaviours affecting the timing of pulsations received from pulsars using novel techniques borrowed from machine learning.

    One aspect of the project will focus on a particular type of pulsars called black widows, which are nicknamed after deadly spiders because they contain an energetic radio pulsar which gradually destroys a low-mass companion. The timing of these systems indicates erratic orbital parameter variability on timescales of months/years, which is presumably linked to tidal interactions between the pulsar and its companion. A new framework to describe this phenomenon will be developed and applied to a combination of archival and newly acquired data. Then, it will be used in order to test the observations against possible theoretical scenarios.

    The second component of the project will study the noise processes in high precision pulsar timing observations for gravitational wave detection. Our sensitivity to gravitational waves depends strongly on our ability to characterise and understand the long-term variability in individual pulsars. Using similar advanced machine learning techniques as the first project, we will attempt to extract the underlying cause responsible for the timing noise, to better understand the pulsars themselves and to improve our sensitivity to gravitational waves.

  • Astronomically Big Data (Allocated funding)

    Supervisors: Anna Scaife, Blair Edwards (IBM)

    Contact: anna.scaife

    Project description: The next generation Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will output more than 150TB of data every second, making it a truly massive data challenge. Its imaging pipeline, which inverts datasets from native Fourier measurements, must identify hundreds of thousands of objects within peta-Byte scale image cubes. This PhD will explore the development and optimisation of workflows for such massive data, including the incorporation of deep learning into processing workflows to enhance object detection and classification. Applications of this sort are in their infancy, but are vital, not only for the success of SKA, but for processing any massive dataset and deploying in-workflow machine learning for a wide range of applications, utilising data-centric computing architectures and accelerators.

    This project is funded by an EPSRC iCASE PhD studentship

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