AST80011 (formerly HET617) Major Project - Computational Astrophysics

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours


AST80006 Galaxies and Their Place in the Universe (or the old HET604 Exploring Galaxies & the Cosmos) and introductory tertiary-level mathematics & physics, or equivalent.
Note that some modules have additional prerequisites of AST80005* or AST80016** (see below for details).


Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.
Note that this Unit requires access to the internet to run the numerical simulations, though time consuming jobs will be run in a batch mode so that students can disconnect from the internet and will be emailed once their jobs are complete.

An electronic logbook (compulsory but not graded), scientific justification (20%), detailed project report (60%), short summary poster paper (20%).

This Unit aims to develop the student's:

  • understanding of specific astrophysical concepts with the aid of computer simulations;
  • practical experience in the use of numerical modelling and data analysis; and
  • ability to keep a comprehensive record of their investigations, to write a detailed summary report of techniques used and investigations undertaken, and to communicate effectively about the outcomes of their work.

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • appreciate the use of computer simulations in modern astrophysics;
  • demonstrate detailed knowledge of a particular aspect of computational astrophysics;
  • write a project proposal which includes a research plan, the project aims, objectives and expected outcomes;
  • undertake independent research;
  • keep a comprehensive record of research methodologies and references/resources utilised;
  • write a detailed and summary report of techniques used, investigations undertaken and conclusions reached in the project; and
  • synthesise the research results in a short poster summary.

Students will choose from a range of computational astrophysics modules which will teach students about specific astrophysical concepts with the aid of computer simulations. This will give students grounding in computer modelling and an appreciation of the ability of science and computers to make complex phenomena understandable.

In any given year a minimum of five modules will be available from which students can choose their field of study, typically covering topics such as:

  • Pulsar Population Synthesis
  • Galactic Dynamics
  • Galaxy Mergers
  • Solar Systems Dynamics (* also requires AST80005 as a prerequisite)
  • Stellar Evolution (** also requires AST80016 as a prerequisite)
  • Binary Evolution (** also requires AST80016 as a prerequisite)
  • Star Cluster Morphology (** also requires AST80016 as a prerequisite)

All modules will use the Swinburne supercomputer via a web interface. Students are not expected to know any programming languages or write their own codes, but they should gain an understanding of algorithms used in each module. Students will use the Web interface to run numerical simulations and can then download the results and data files to analyse on their home computers. Under exceptional circumstances, students may choose their own project topic after consultation with and approval by the Program Coordinator.

Each student will work closely with a supervisor assigned to their project, communicating and exchanging drafts via email, and, where appropriate, students will collaborate with each other via newsgroup discussions.

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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