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Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

Jodrell bank telescope against a backdrop of sunset

PhD projects

Below is a list of PhD projects being offered in 2021. The list will be continuously updated over time.

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. 

Funding

Any projects marked as "Allocated funding" carry specific guaranteed funding attached to the project. Applications for "allocated funding" projects will be assessed and shortlisted separately from the general pool. Note that our deadline for STFC funding has now passed. However, if you wish to apply with other funding sources please contact either your potential supervisor or the PhD admissions team.

Application process

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

As projects are continually added, you are encouraged to apply even if a project area you are interested in is not listed. In this case you may indicate in the application form your preferred area of research (e.g. "cosmology")  for the Research Title.

A novel axion detector

Supervisor:  Lucio Piccirillo

Contact: Lucio Piccirillo

Project description:

The strong charge parity (CP) problem remains one of the outstanding problems in modern particle physics. Similarly, the dark matter problem is one of the outstanding problems in modern cosmology. A potential solution to both is the axion, a hypothetical particle that was predicted by R. Peccei and H. Quinn in 1977. It solves the strong CP problem by allowing the CP violating terms in the QCD Lagrangian to vanish. If it exists the axion is also predicted to interact very weakly with normal matter, therefore depending on its mass, it is also a promising candidate for dark matter.

In this project we are looking for a PhD student to build and test a prototype axion detector. The detector exploits the inverse Primakoff effect, where axions are predicted to interact with a static magnetic field and be converted into photons within a microwave resonant cavity. The student will have the opportunity to work on RF design, cryogenics, and with the National Graphene Institute to develop a very sensitive photon detector.

ALMAGAL: The ALMA study of high mass protocluster formation in the Milky Way

Supervisor: Gary Fuller, Rowan Smith

Contact: Gary Fuller

Project description:

Understanding the formation of massive stars is central to wide range of astrophysics, from the star formation history of the Universe to the physical and chemical evolution of galaxies and the origin of black holes, pulsars and gamma ray bursts. ALMAGAL is an ALMA Large Programme to observe 1000 young, high mass regions to study the formation and evolution of high mass stars and their associated stellar clusters. This PhD project will involve the analysis of the ALMAGAL observations to study the properties of the sources detected, the dynamics of the regions and their environments, and the evolutionary status of the protostars.

ALMAGAL is large international collaboration and there may be opportunities to spend time working at some of the partner institutions. There will also be opportunities to take part in, and potentially, lead follow-up observations of the sources studied with ALMAGAL. The results of the analysis of the ALMAGAL observations will be compared with numerical simulations of massive star formation to help constrain the initial conditions required to form the most massive stars.

C-Band All-Sky Survey (C-BASS)

Supervisor: Clive Dickinson, Paddy Leahy

Contact: Clive Dickinson

Project description: 

The C-Band All-Sky Survey (C-BASS) is a dedicated 5 GHz all-sky radio survey, that is mapping the entire sky in intensity and polarization, with an angular resolution of 45 arcmin (https://cbass.web.ox.ac.uk/home). The data will be crucial in understanding and removing of diffuse polarized synchrotron radiation from sensitive CMB surveys that are aiming to detect gravitational waves from the early Universe. The maps are also of great interest for studying the Galaxy, including emission mechanisms, Galactic structure, the Galactic magnetic field.

C-BASS has completed the northern survey observations taken at Owens Valley Radio Observatory in California. The maps are currently being finalised with a number of initial scientific exploitation papers being prepared. The southern survey, located near to the SKA site in the Karoo desert, South Africa, is currently being commissioned. The data from the southern telescope is expected to available in 2021/2022. Eventually, we will produce full-sky maps that will be released to the astronomical community (2023/2024). In the mean time, we can use these new data to study Galactic emission. For example, C-BASS data will allow a much better separation of CMB/foregrounds in the WMAP/Planck satellite data. A number of science papers are expected to come from C-BASS (see e.g. https://cbass.web.ox.ac.uk/journal-papers).

The student project will be to take a lead in the data analysis and scientific exploitation using C-BASS data. A major task will be in reducing and calibrating the southern data as it comes in (experience with Python and/or CC++ would be an advantage). Understanding the data will be crucial for ensuring that scientific results are not affected by residual systematic errors in the data, such as from ground emission and radio frequency interference (RFI). There will be ample opportunity to do scientific analyses of C-BASS data in conjunction with multi-frequency data, depending on the interests of the student, which will lead to peer-reviewed journal papers.

C-BASS is a collaboration between Manchester and Oxford Universities in the UK, Caltech/JPL in the U.S., Rhodes University/UKZN in South Africa, and KACST in Saudi Arabia.

Constraining the physics of the early universe with the Simons Observatory

Supervisor: Michael Brown

Contact: Michael 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.

Deep machine learning in galaxy formation

Supervisor: Christopher Conselice

Contact: Christopher Conselice

Project description: 

Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence are revolutionizing all aspects of life and science, especially astrophysics.  In the future, everything from smartphones to cars will be using some form of machine learning, and in science there is a great opportunity to apply new techniques of ML to astronomy. ML can be effectively applied to studies of galaxies and galaxy evolution.  

One reason for this is that in the next few years there will be major surveys such as LSST and Euclid which will take imaging/pictures of billions of galaxies and stars. It is not possible to examine all these galaxies by eye, or even to use standard quantitative methods to measure the properties of these galaxies. Machine learning is a requirement to measure and catalogue these galaxies, with properties such as their morphologies, spectral shapes, and other features such as redshifts and distances.  

This project will investigate the use of machine learning using imaging through deep learning for determining the quantitative structures of galaxies. These quantitative structures go beyond the normal schemes for classifying galaxies.  Whilst there has been some work in using standard 100-year old methods of galaxy classification with ML, we need to go beyond this and use ML and new techniques in Deep Learning to determine the most important quantitative features of structure.  This project will investigate this with distant galaxy imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Dark Energy Survey, as well as simulated data from Euclid and LSST.

Fragmentation, multiplicity and massive star formation in filament hubs

Supervisor: Rowan Smith

Contact: Rowan Smith

Project description: 

Massive stars have a profound influence upon their surroundings and the evolution of the galactic Interstellar Medium due to their radiation, momentum feedback and final death as supernovae. Binary interaction dominates the evolution of massive stars, but at present multiplicity is rarely taken into account when studying massive star formation. However, it is a crucial topic, as close companions alter massive stars evolutionary path via mass exchange, and their subsequent supernovae progenitors. Observations show that massive cores often contain multiple proto-stars and that cores are formed within networks of filaments gas in molecular clouds. Thus massive proto-stellar cores may be fed by clumpy streams of gas with variable angular momentum, making fragmentation increasingly likely.

This project aims to rectify this by simulating massive and low mass cores formed within molecular cloud filament networks, to investigate their multiplicity and disc properties. We will use the MHD code Arepo with radiative transfer to simulate filamentary gas networks to investigate the fragmentation of the gas into stars. Does including the environment in which massive stars form increase their likelihood to be part of multiple star systems?

Gravitational lens research at JBCA

Supervisor: Neal Jackson

Contact: Neal Jackson

Project description: 

Gravitational lenses are systems in which a background object is multiply imaged by the action of the gravitational field of a foreground galaxy. Gravitational lensing is important because it allows us magnified views of distant objects in the Universe, and also because it allows us to investigate mass distributions in galaxies independent of their light emission. We are currently involved in a number of projects with major radio facilities and planning for future surveys, including Euclid. Accordingly, there are a number of areas in which students could become involved:

  • We are conducting LOFAR observations of a number of gravitational lenses to explore the properties of lensing galaxies. Because lenses give us multiple lines of sight through the galaxy, this allows us to deduce the effect of the lensing galaxy on the radio signal that propagates through it. We can also use the wide fields of LOFAR surveys to make images of very faint lenses and study the properties of very faint radio sources. Some of this work involves contributing to pipelines which are important for automatic reduction of large volumes of data.
  • We are continuing other projects with the JVLA and e-MERLIN involving radio observations of both radio-loud and radio-quiet lenses in order to study both lensing galaxies and the lensed sources (the latter are visible thanks to the magnification of the lensing galaxy).
  • We are involved in a science working group of Euclid which is investigating the methods for discovery of large numbers of lenses from Euclid, due for launch in 2022.

Is there a new radio background? The L-Band All-Sky Survey (L-BASS)

Supervisor: Patrick Leahy, Co-supervisors: Ian Browne & Peter Wilkinson.

Contact: Patrick Leahy

Project description:

The aim of the L-BASS project is to map the intensity of the radio sky at ~1.4 GHz with unprecedented absolute accuracy (0.1K) – ten times better than achieved by Penzias and Wilson in their Nobel Prize winning discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are several reasons to do this, the most exciting being that it should settle a current astrophysical puzzle about the reality of excess all-sky low frequency emission of unknown origin (the “ARCADE-2 controversy”).  Such an excess might help account for another recent controversial result which is the claimed detection of strong absorption arising from atomic hydrogen situated at a redshift of 17 (the “EDGES result”).  If confirmed this has profound implications about the conditions in the early universe. More generally the unique L-BASS sky map will have impact on Galactic astrophysics and our knowledge of the Cosmic Microwave Background.

During the PhD project the student will produce and interpret the first sky maps with the L-BASS telescope system which is situated at Jodrell Bank Observatory. The system, which is based on two large horn antennas, is nearing completion and commissioning observations will begin Q1 2021. This PhD project involves a mixture of hands on work with the system; making precisely calibrated observations; writing software for data analysis and astrophysical interpretation of the results. To achieve the required temperature accuracy (0.1K) requires particularly careful calibration using a cryogenically cooled reference load of known physical temperature; the assembly and testing of this cryogenic calibration load will be the significant experimental task in the first year of the project.

LIRGI: The e-MERLIN Luminous Infrared Galaxy Survey Inventory

Supervisor: 

R. Beswick, A. Thomson, D. Williams, T. Muxlow, in collaboration with IAA, Granada and OSO-Chalmers, Gothenburg

Contact: Robert Beswick

Project description: 

We offer a PhD position to work on the e-MERLIN legacy project LIRGI (Luminous Infrared Galaxy Survey Inventory). LIRGI includes 42 local (D < 260 Mpc) galaxies of the most luminous infra-red galaxies selected from the IRAS revised Bright Galaxy Sample in the Northern Hemisphere, with L= log(Lir/Lsol) >11.4.  The galaxies of the sample have  properties of area star formation densities, gas and radiation densities similar to star-forming galaxies a high redshift. LIRGI will provide a much needed high-spatial resolution radio complement to the legacy observations made with the NASA Great Observatories (GOALS). We have already observed all LIRGI sources with e-MERLIN at C- and L-band (both in continuum and spectra line mode), as well as EVN observations for the whole sample, and access to LOFAR data for a sub-sample of LIRGI. In addition, there is ancillary JVLA data for the whole sample.

The successful candidate is expected to lead the publication of the continuum e-MERLIN observations, possibly combined with JVLA and/or EVN data, and get involved in the spectral-line data reduction of e-MERLIN data. She/he is also expected to exploit the combined dataset of e-MERLIN/LOFAR/JVLA, with the aim to trace the nature of the ISM in LIRGs (clumpy vs. uniform media), as well as for unveiling nuclear outflows. The successful candidate will work closely with experts in each of those instruments. Through this project you will benefit from, and work in very close collaboration with groups in the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalucía in Granada, Spain, and the Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden.

Looking for evidence of energy-intensive extra-terrestrial civilisations via anomalies in astronomical data

Supervisor: Mike Garrett (UoM) & Andrew Siemion (UCB & UoM).

Contact: Mike Garrett

Project description:

For untold millennia, humankind has looked up at the sky and marvelled at the vastness and beauty of the cosmos. Countless generations have tried to understand their place in the centre of these immensities while contemplating the meaning of life and their own individual mortality. The scientific method has revealed some of the inner workings of the universe, and yet there are some fundamental questions that remain unanswered. One of these is: Are we alone? This PhD project aims to look for the kind of artificial signatures an advanced technical civilisation might imprint on astronomical data collected by telescopes on Earth and in space.

A general goal is to search for generic anomalies in astronomical data by utilising large-scale public telescope surveys, looking for unusual features in multi-waveband data. In particular, we will search for extreme outliers in the Mid-IR/radio correlation -  a new method that permits us to break the degeneracies that can occur due to the presence of dust in extragalactic systems. Using wide-area surveys in the radio and mid-Infrared, we can survey millions of extragalactic systems, looking for the tell-tale signs of waste-heat from energy-intensive advanced civilisations.

We will also further develop SETI searches using the technique of radio interferometry – this offers several advantages compared to traditional single-dish or beam-formed approaches, and we will do this in collaboration with the Breakthrough Listen Initiative (BLI), specifically contributing to the BLI MeerKAT 1-million star survey, preparing the way towards SETI with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Modelling time domain radio emission in the circumstellar regions of protostars

Supervisor: Gary Fuller and Philippa Browning

Contact: Gary Fuller, Philippa Browning

Project description:

Understanding how a forming star acquires its final mass is a fundamental issue for a building a comprehensive model of star formation. The time-dependent and transient nature of the process of mass accretion from the circumstellar disk to the protostar is difficult to study and poorly understood. However, this process can be diagnosed through variable emission it produces as material is accreted. Recently, we have developed new idealised models (Waterfall et al Mon Not Roy Astr Soc 483, 917, 2019; Waterfall et al. Mon Not Roy Astr Soc 496, 271, 2020) of this phenomenon in T-Tauri stars. In  these models, large magnetic loops interconnecting the star and the accretion disk are filled with non-thermal electrons due to magnetic reconnection and these electrons emit at radio wavelengths.

The aim of the current project will be to develop more sophisticated and realistic models of this process and predict its radio emission. This will be done using numerical, resistive magnetohydrodynamic simulations of protostars, which will predict the energy release due to magnetic reconnection as the stellar magnetic field interacts with the disk.  Then, the gyrosynchrotron radio emission due to electrons accelerated by the reconnection – similarly to solar flares – will be calculated, modelling both the intensity and polarization properties as a function of frequency as the accretion event progresses.

Comparison of the results of these models with observations will provide some of the first insights on this final stage of accretion on to protostars. The results will provide important constraints on the design the first large scale radio surveys of star forming regions with the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and there may be the opportunity to be involved in the comparison of the model predictions and observations made with current radio telescopes.

Pushing the noise limit: low noise amplifiers for radio telescopes

Supervisor: Gary Fuller & Danielle George (Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering)

Contact: Gary Fuller 

Project description: 

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.

This project is an opportunity to join the Advanced Radio Instrumentation Group in the Departments of Physics & Astronomy and Electrical & Electronic Engineering and the joint research laboratory for Radio Astronomy Advanced Instrumentation Research (RAAIR).  There are three possible areas of research:

  1. The designing and testing 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 world’s biggest telescopes.
  2. New processes and materials for transistors for future, high performance generations of LNAs.
  3. Computer-aided LNA design optimisation.

In each of these areas there is the possibility of placements at various collaborating international institutions, including Caltech in Pasadena.

Study of the First Galaxies and Stars with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

Supervisor: Christopher Conselice

Contact: Christopher Conselice

Project description:

The James Webb space telescope, launching in 2021, will produce a revolution in our understanding of the first galaxies and stars formed within 500 million years after the Big Bang. This update to the Hubble Space Telescope will allow us to probe galaxies in a way that we are unable to do today -- observing for the first time the birth of galaxies in the universe. Due to our observing strategy we will also observe some of the earliest stars when they explode as supernova. I am co-leading a JWST guaranteed time observations (GTO) team who will obtain some of the earliest data from JWST for this project.

The student working on this project will lead the discovery of the first galaxies and studying their properties including their masses, sizes, structures, and merger histories. We are currently obtaining ancillary data with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The student working on this project will take on a leadership role in investigating the stellar populations, ages, structures, and star formation rates of the first galaxies and stars using JWST imaging and spectroscopy. These observations will be interpreted in terms of theories of galaxies formation to test and exclude different ideas for how the first generations of galaxies and star formed.

Simulating star bursting galaxies across cosmological time

Supervisor: Rowan Smith

Contact: Rowan Smith

Project description:

One of the fundamental questions in Astrophysics is the link between galaxies and the formation of stars within them. Such stars injects energy, momentum and metals into the surrounding gas and play a crucial role in the evolution of small irregular systems in the early universe, into the galaxies we see today. On the other hand, the conditions within the galaxy will determine where star forming clouds of gas can form, how they fragment, and ultimately how solar systems like our own are made. Until recently the link between galaxy and star-forming scales could not be investigated simultaneously. However, our team has recently pioneered a technique where individual star forming regions can be simulated within a full galaxy simulation.

In this project we will use our custom modified version of the AREPO MHD code to investigate how stars form in some of the most dramatic objects in our Universe, Starburst Galaxies. To do this we will simulate firing dwarf galaxies and tidal streams through the discs of larger galaxies, and self-consistently resolve the formation of star forming clouds where the two interact. In these starburst regions we will investigate how the star formation rate is changed, the effect on the surrounding galaxy, and how the gas fragments. Is star formation in these extreme systems like that of the Milky Way, or is there a new paradigm? What observable signatures can we predict will be seen with cutting edge facilities such as the ALMA telescope?

This project is primarily numerically based, but while previous experience of simulations and HPC would be beneficial, it is not a necessity as training will be provided in all the techniques as part of the project.

Search for pulsars and fast transients with MeerKAT

Supervisor: Ben Stappers & Lina Levin Preston

Contact: Ben Stappers

Project description:

MeerKAT is the most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the most sensitive in the world. It is also a pre-cursor to the world’s largest radio telescope the Square Kilometre Array. It is currently undertaking searches for radio pulsars and fast transients through the TRAPUM (TRAnsients and PUlsars with MeerKAT) and MeerTRAP (More TRAnsients and Pulsars).

The aim of these searches is to find hundreds of new radio pulsars and fast transients, including Fast Radio Bursts. In this project you would join these teams to search for some of the most exciting objects in astrophysics. In particular you would be looking for young and/or energetic pulsars located in association with supernova remnants, pulsar wind nebulae or high energy sources.

You would in parallel search these observations for fast radio transients such as Rotating Radio Transients and potentially find Fast Radio Bursts. After discovery you would undertake follow up timing of the pulsars to determine their nature and how the compare to the known pulsar population and how they interact with their surroundings. Any FRBs that were discovered would be able to be localised precisely and studies could be undertaken of their hosts and also searches for repeat bursts.

SPEARNET - Exoplanet characterisation through atmospheric transmission spectroscopy

Supervisor: Eamonn Kerins

Contact: Eamonn Kerins

Project description:

Projects are available to work within the Spectroscopy and Photometry of Exoplanet Atmospheres Research Network (SPEARNET).

SPEARNET is a new Manchester-led international survey, involving colleagues at Manchester, Open University, NARIT (Thailand) and ARIES (India).

We are using a globally-distributed network of optical and IR telescopes, from 0.5m to 8m aperture, to undertake multi-epoch, multi-wavelength observations of exoplanet transits. The multi-wavelength observations are used to measure the transmission spectrum of the atmospheres of Hot Jupiters and Neptunes. SPEARNET has developed an innovative automated selection scheme to choose our targets, a world-leading transit fitting code to analyse the data and construct transmission spectra, and novel machine-learning techniques to speed up retrieval of spectral models.

The goal of SPEARNET is to provide a testbed for how to conduct optimal, objectively-selected statistical studies of exoplanet atmospheres in an era where, thanks to missions such as NASA TESS, ESA PLATO and ESA ARIEL, we expect to have far more targets than we are able to follow up from the ground. Projects are available to work on analysing existing data, gather new data, and to help improve methods for target selection and analysis, especially methods with utility for future large-scale transmission spectroscopy missions like ARIEL. You’ll be using and writing software in Python, so experience of, and enjoyment of, using Python is an advantage.

Star-formation and accretion processes in galaxies at redshift

Supervisor: R. Beswick, D. Williams, T. Muxlow, A. Thomson

Contact: Robert Beswick

Project description:

Understanding how galaxies evolve through cosmic time remains a fundamental question of astrophysics. Key to exploring this question is our understanding of how the fundamentally astrophysical processes of star-formation and accretion onto supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies interact with each other and their host galaxies.

Star-formation is fundamental to the formation and evolution of galaxies whilst accretion provides a major power source in the universe, dominating the emission from distant quasars as well as from nearby X-ray binary systems. The feedback between these two processes is also crucial, e.g. in reconciling the observed galaxy luminosity function with the predictions from the standard hierarchical clustering models.

Radio observations provide by far the best single diagnostic of these two processes, providing a direct view of SF even in dusty environments and allowing detection of AGN and measurement of their accretion rate at bolometric luminosities far below anything detectable at higher energies.

The LeMMINGs e-MERLIN survey aims to address this key question via one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys of local galaxies. Using the over 800hrs of observations with UK’s National Radio Astronomy facility, e-MERLIN, we have observed a representative and un-bias sample of 280 nearby galaxies at radio wavelengths (20 and 5-cm) with unprecedented angular resolution (see Baldi et al 2018, 2020).

These state-of-the-art radio observations are complemented by a wide range of multi-wavelength coverage from X-rays to optical and infrared using Chandra, HST and Spitzer/Herschel to provide a comprehensive survey of these galaxies and the physical process powering them. These radio data revealing both the nuclear accretion dominated AGN population, and allows us to probe the products of obscured star-formation (such radio supernovae remnants) and other compact radio sources with unprecedented detail.

In this PhD project you will lead the scientific analysis of these new survey data, and in particular those recently observed 5cm e-MERLIN array. A focus of your work will be to extend the survey to encompass the full extent of these individual galaxies, thus increasing the areas surveyed by LeMMINGs by more than 2 orders of magnitude and providing a complete census of activity across all galaxy types and morphologies in the local Universe.

The role of magnetic fields in the formation of massive stars

Supervisor: Gary Fuller and Rowan Smith

Contact: Gary Fuller

Project description:

Magnetic fields are ubiquitous in the interstellar medium but their detailed role in the formation of stars is as yet unclear. In the dense star forming regions of molecular clouds the magnetic field can be traced through observations of the polarized continuum emission from dust grains which align with the magnetic field. However, to understand how magnetic fields affect the evolution of the gas, observations of the magnetic field must be combined with observations of the cold, molecular gas in the regions.

This project will involve working with observations of the magnetic field and molecular gas covering a wide range of size scales to study the impact of the magnetic fields as gas flows from parsec scale clumps down to individual star forming cores and protostars. Part of the project will involve developing new methods to compare the polarization and line observations with the results of state-of-the-art magneto-hydrodynamics simulations. This work will be carried in as part of the follow-up of ALMAGAL, the ALMA large programme studying the formation and evolution of high mass stars and the ERC Synergy project ECOGAL.

Tracing cosmic evolution via neutral hydrogen intensity mapping

Supervisor: Laura Wolz

Contact: Laura Wolz

Project description:

The upcoming Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will provide new ways to test and constrain the cosmological model of our universe via observations in the radio wavelength. Hydrogen (also called HI) - the most abundant element in our universe - has a characteristic radio emission at 21cm which can be used as a tracer for the underlying dark matter distribution and the cosmic expansion rate. The redshifted 21cm line from HI can be used to efficiently map the large scale structure of our Universe using radio telescopes such as the SKA.

This relatively new method called HI intensity mapping has the potential to test our cosmological standard model in many ways, including the expansion history up to high redshifts. An important aspect on these tests is the correct understanding and modelling of the neutral hydrogen distribution with respect to dark matter. In this project, we investigate new analysis techniques for future HI intensity mapping experiments with the SKA combining astrophysical models of the HI distribution with the cosmological tests. This project will involve working with cosmological simulations as well as developing new numerical methods for future data analysis.

Using the ALCHEMI large programme on ALMA to study the evolution of the Starbursts in NGC253

Supervisor: Albert Zijlstra

Contact: Albert Zijlstra

Project description: 

Stars of intermediate mass at the end of their lives eject much of their mass back into space. The ejecta are enriched with the products of nuclear burning: most of the carbon in the Universe comes from these stars, about half of the nitrogen, as well as half of all elements heavier than iron. The ejection happens in a catastrophic stellar wind. It leaves a bewildering range of morphologies, with jets, disks, bipolar lobes, - some are even round.

Neither the cause of the wind or the cause of the shaping is fully clear. A Large Program was awarded on ALMA to study these winds at very high resolution. The data reduction is handled by the Manchester ALMA centre. The PhD student will work on these data and analyse the variety of structures that are seen. The student may optionally spend one year at the University of Leuven in Belgium.

Using the ALCHEMI large programme on ALMA to study the evolution of the starbursts in NGC253

Supervisor: Gary Fuller, Rowan Smith

Contact: Gary Fuller

Project description:

NGC253 is a nearby spiral galaxy which is undergoing a period of rapid star formation in its central region and is one of the richest extragalactic molecular line sources known. ALCHEMI is an international ALMA large programme to carry out a high angular resolution, broad band spectral imaging survey of the central regions of NGC253.

This PhD project will use the ALCHEMI data to study the properties of the star forming regions in NGC253. These will be compared with well-studied massive star formation regions in our galaxy to investigate how star formation in starburst galaxies like NGC253 differs from that in more quiescent galaxies like the Milky Way. Some of the larger scale features of the galaxy, such as its massive molecular outflow will also be studied. Comparison with numerical simulations will also be used to help interpret the structure and evolution of the central starburst in NGC253.

Understanding dark energy with weak lensing surveys

Supervisor: Michael Brown

Contact: Michael Brown

Project description:

Understanding the origin of the accelerating Universe is one of the biggest challenges in physics today. Is an unknown “dark energy” responsible or do we simply not understand the behaviour of gravity on cosmological scales? One of the most promising ways to investigate this question is the technique of weak gravitational lensing - measuring subtle distortions in the shapes of distant galaxies caused by the gravitational deflection of their light by the intervening large scale structure of the Universe. Our group is involved in several forthcoming projects that will use this effect to test candidate theories of dark energy and/or modified gravity.

This project will involve developing new analysis techniques for extracting the subtle weak lensing signature from future datasets, including ESA’s flagship dark energy mission - the Euclid satellite - due for launch in 2022. In addition, we are pioneering new techniques for measuring weak lensing using radio telescopes. Ultimately these will be used to analyse data from the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, both on its own and in cross-correlation with optical surveys, such as those provided by Euclid. This project would suit a student with keen analytic and computational skills.

Unveiling the most extreme starbursts in the Universe with deep, multi-wavelength imaging

Supervisor: Alasdair Thomson, Tom Muxlow, Rob Beswick, David Williams

Contact: Robert Beswick

Project description: 

Studies of the extragalactic background light have revealed that up to half of all the star formation that has occurred throughout the history of the Universe took place in “dusty” environments, which are obscured from the view of visible-light telescopes. Interstellar dust grains absorb UV/optical starlight, and re-radiate it in the far-infrared, giving rise to a well-established relationship between the star formation rate and infrared luminosities of star-forming galaxies. The most luminous dusty galaxies (“starbursts”) in the distant Universe formed new stars at rates >500x faster than the Milky Way today, and – though rare – are thought to have hosted up to 50% of the star formation occurring at “cosmic noon”, 10bn years ago.

Observations at ~850µm wavelength (the “submillimetre” regime) are uniquely well-placed to detect these dusty starburst galaxies out to the farthest reaches of the Universe – however, the difficulties in tying emission observed with submillimetre telescopes to individual galaxy populations seen at other wavelengths have long hindered our efforts to understand this important class of star-forming galaxy in detail. Using a recently-uncovered sample of submillimetre-selected galaxies (SMGs) identified using their optical/infrared colours, this project aims to explore the nature of SMGs via cutting-edge multi-wavelength datasets. These include data from the Hubble Space Telescope, Herschel Space Telescope, as well as radio observations obtained by the VLA and e-MERLIN (the UK's National Facility for radio astronomy, operated by The University of Manchester from Jodrell Bank Observatory).

Some prior experience of programming and experimental data analysis would be beneficial, but neither are essential at the outset, as it is expected that the student would develop these skills during the course of the project.