Potential PhD Topics
(Updated 24 Jan 2013)
Below are listed those CAS staff who are currently looking for PhD students. Note that this does not mean they will always have specific projects listed in the next section of this page. Often it's best to talk to the supervisor first and, upon discussing your interests and skills with them, a project may emerge.
The following list outlines particular PhD projects currently on offer. Contact the staff member(s) listed for more information. Note that, due to the nature of research, this list constantly changes; potential PhD candidates are encouraged to contact the relevant staff member(s) as soon as possible. Other projects, not listed here, may be possible; contact the staff member above whom you feel is most suited to your ideas and areas of interest.
Prof. Matthew Bailes
- The Radio Universe at 1000 frames per second - Burst Discovery
- The Radio Universe at 1000 frames per second - Instrumentation
- The Radio Universe at 1000 frames per second - Burst Origins
A.Prof Chris Blake
Dr. Barbara Catinella
- No projects offered at this time
Prof. Warrick Couch
Dr. Jeff Cooke
- Super-luminous supernovae - Discovering the deaths of the first stars
- Solving the mystery between Lyman alpha and the formation and evolution of galaxies
A.Prof. Darren Croton
- No projects offered at this time
A.Prof. Chris Fluke
Prof. Duncan Forbes
Prof. Karl Glazebrook
Prof. Alister Graham
Prof. Jarrod Hurley
- No projects offered at this time
A.Prof. Virginia Kilborn
Dr. Glen Mackie
Prof. Sarah Maddison
- Testing planetesimal collision models with debris disk observations
- A Dynamical Search for Habitable Worlds and Solar System Analogues
Prof. Jeremy Mould
A.Prof. Michael Murphy
- No projects offered at this time
Dr. Emma Ryan-Weber
- No projects offered at this time
Dr. Willem van Straten
Supervisor: Prof. Alister Graham, Aust. Govt. Future Fellow
Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy taken
with NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This project will explore how stars are distributed in galaxy images obtained from both ground-based telescopes and satellites such as Hubble and Spitzer. The structure of galaxies reveals much about how they formed, how they are connected with one another and also with the massive black holes that reside in their cores. A feeling for the type of research done with Prof. Graham can be seen in his Press Releases.
Supervisor: A.Prof. Chris Fluke
GPU-based volume rendering of the
HIPASS galaxy survey (credit: A.Hassan;
As astronomy enters the Petabyte-scale data era, existing methods for analysis, visualisation, and knowledge discovery will be pushed to their limits. New approaches are required to ensure that astronomers can continue to work with datasets that far exceed the capacity of desktop computers, by making increased use of remote access to high-performance computing facilities. An important new technology that is already providing great benefits in this area is the massively-parallel graphics processing unit (GPU).
In this project, you will research, implement, test and evaluate new GPU-based approaches to data analysis and interactive visualisation, with the goal of accelerating discovery in the Petascale Astronomy Era. To achieve this, you will make use of two unique facilities at Swinburne University: gSTAR (the ~130 Tflop/s GPU Supercomputer for Theoretical Astrophysics Research) and the High Definition Virtual Reality Theatre. The two main science projects your work will contribute to are GERLUMPH (the GPU-Enabled High Resolution cosmological MicroLensing parameter survey) and WALLABY (the all-sky, extra-galactic neutral hydrogen survey to be conducted with the Australian SKA Pathfinder).
This project is designed for students with strong computer programming skills.
Supervisors: A.Prof. Virginia Kilborn and Ivy Wong (CASS)
The fraction of the available baryons in the dark matter halos around galaxies like our own Milky Way that have cooled and been transformed into stars is only around 20 percent. If we compare the star formation rates in these galaxies to the amount of atomic and molecular gas that they contain, we infer that gas should be accreting from the external environment in order maintain star formation at its observed level. There is observational evidence - such as neutral hydrogen (HI) cloud complexes, HI-rich dwarfs in the vicinity of spiral galaxies, extended and warped outer layers of HI in spiral galaxies - that nearby galaxies accrete material in the form of atomic gas. Systematic surveys of such features are still lacking, however, so their ubiquity and their link to the growth of galactic disks still remains poorly understood.
The student will observe a sample of very gas-rich galaxies to determine how these galaxies accreted their gas, and how it is transported into the disk. The link between the gas accretion and star formation in galaxies is currently unclear. The student will also use multi-wavelength data such as UV (Galex), H-alpha (AAO/Keck), IR (WISE), and new instruments such as SAMI on the AAT to study the star formation histories, metallicities, and stellar dynamics to help constrain accretion and structure formation models.
Supervisors: Prof. Warrick Couch & Dr. Matthew Owers
(a) Chandra X-ray image of the hot gas in complex
cluster merger Abell 2744. (b) Hubble Space Telescope
image of the same field.
The most extreme form of structure formation in the Universe occurs when two massive clusters of galaxies merge to form a single entity. This violent event vigorously rearranges the environment of the residing galaxies and simulations suggest that this process may result in an enhancement in the mechanisms which drive the transformation of spiral galaxies into elliptical galaxies. Furthermore, recent observations of merging clusters at radio wavelengths have hinted at an increase in the number of galaxies which have undergone a recent episode of intense star formation activity -- an excellent signature of a galaxy in the throes of rapid evolution. However, the increase in the population of these galaxies is not ubiquitous amongst merging clusters and the emerging hypothesis is that the details of the cluster merger are key factors in understanding the ifs, hows and whys of cluster merger induced galaxy transformation.
This project will involve the analysis of Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope observations of three merging clusters of galaxies for which deep Chandra X-ray observations and comprehensive multi-object optical spectroscopy (MOS) exist. The Chandra and MOS data have been used to place tight constraints on the dynamical history of the mergers and the radio data can now be exploited to test the relationship between the merger parameters and the radio galaxy population in merging clusters. In combination with the study of the optical spectral properties the galaxies in these clusters, the radio data offers an excellent opportunity to undertake a detailed investigation of the effects of cluster mergers on the resident galaxies.
During the project, the candidate will acquire skills in reducing and analysing radio data -- a much desired skill given Australia's involvement in future surveys to be undertaken with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio telescope. The candidate will also be provided with opportunities to form collaborations with colleagues based around Australia and overseas.
Supervisor: Dr. Willem van Straten
High-precision pulsar timing with future telescopes such as the Square Kilometre Array will be ultimately limited by natural phenomena such as multi-path propagation in the turbulent interstellar medium and the impulsive noise that is intrinsic to the pulsar signal. Although techniques have been developed to mitigate some of these effects, modern pulsar instruments at the world's premiere observatories do not record the statistical information required to apply these methods on a regular basis. For this project, high-performance digital signal processing software will be developed for multi-processor architectures (such as general-purpose graphics processing units and field-programmable gate arrays) and demonstrated using pulsar data recorded at the Parkes Observatory. The new technology will enable a wide variety of experiments, ranging from studies of the pulsar emission mechanism to improving the sensitivity of pulsar timing arrays; the candidate will have the opportunity to pursue these topics in collaboration with an international team of experts. This research will contribute directly to the design of the pulsar timing processor for the SKA and equip the candidate with the expertise required to fully exploit the largest radio telescope ever to be built. The candidate will have access to state-of-the-art supercomputing facilities at Swinburne and advanced digital instrumentation at the Parkes Observatory. A strong background in the fundamentals of digital signal processing and experience with the C++ programming language would be highly beneficial. The applicant should also have some direct experience or a keen interest in learning to use the CUDA and/or OpenCL parallel computing platforms and programming models.
Supervisor: A.Prof. Chris Fluke
Over the last few decades, astronomers have become comfortable with working at a desktop comprising a keyboard, mouse, and 2D monitor. With the emergence of ubiquitous, low-cost technologies for interaction (e.g. tablet-based mobile devices and gesture-based interfaces) and display (e.g. 3D monitors), an opportunity exists to radically redesign the astronomer's desktop.
In this project, you will research, implement, test and evaluate novel technologies for interaction and display. You will consider the role of such technologies at all stages of the astronomy research cycle: planning, data collection, analysis, presentation and publication. You will investigate, evaluate and propose new strategies to increase the up-take by astronomers of new and emerging technologies - you will be encouraged to collaborate with astronomers to assess their specific needs.
The two main science projects your work will contribute to are GERLUMPH (the GPU-Enabled High Resolution cosmological MicroLensing parameter survey) and WALLABY (the all-sky, extra-galactic neutral hydrogen survey to be conducted with the Australian SKA Pathfinder). You will make use of facilities such as the High Definition Virtual Reality Theatre at Swinburne University.
Supervisor: Prof. Sarah Maddison
7 mm image of the Fomalhaut debris disk made with ATCA.
The disk centre (blue star) is offset from the central
(yellow) star, in agreement with HST observations,
possibility due to the eccentric planet Fomalhaut b. From Ricci et al. (2012).
Planets are formed through the collisions of asteroid-like bodies in the early stages of planetary systems. But collisions between these bodies can also be disruptive and generate a swarm of dust fragments. The dust in debris disks is thought to be produced by collisions between km-sized planetesimals (comets and asteroids) leftovers of the planetary formation process. Since we cannot detect planetesimals, sub-mm and mm observations of the cold dust in debris disk is the only way to study these unseen bodies. Thermal dust emission in the sub-mm and mm wavebands can be used to study the size distribution of dust grains, which in turn can be used to distinguish between different collisional models. In this project, the student will join an international term conducting a survey of debris disks with the Australia Telescope Compact Array and other sub-mm and mm interferometers to study their intrinsic properties and test predictions of collisional models of planetesimals.
Supervisor: A.Prof. Chris Blake
As light rays travel across the Universe from distant galaxies
to our telescopes, their paths are distorted (or "lensed") by
the intervening matter. The amount of lensing may be used to test the force of gravity across cosmological scales
Cosmologists believe that today's Universe is dominated by a mysterious "dark energy" whose nature is not yet understood. An important possible explanation is that the nature of gravitation differs on large cosmological scales from the predictions of General Relativity. In this PhD we will construct tests of large-scale gravity using our best existing methods: the velocities of galaxies as they fall toward dense regions such as clusters, and the gravitational lensing of light rays as they travel across the Universe. These measurements will be compared to the predictions of theories which modify General Relativity, and to the results of advanced N-body simulation techniques.
Wide-field radio surveys at high time resolution have been impossible to conduct because of their insanely high data rates and computational challenges. In this novel project we will transform Australia's largest radio telescope, the Molonglo 18,000 square metre telescope near Canberra into a wide-field (12 square degree) camera that images the radio sky at millisecond timescales. To achieve this we will deploy 24 5-teraflop GPUs in a supercomputer that will process 22 Gigabytes of data every second to undertake the most sensitive search for radio bursts at cosmological distances. In this first project on this massive undertaking we are seeking a student to search for and decipher the radio bursts that will be discovered.
Swinburne's Green2 Supercomputer
Credit: Swinburne ITS
Wide-field radio surveys at high time resolution have been impossible to conduct because of their insanely high data rates and computational challenges. In this novel project we will transform Australia's largest radio telescope, the Molonglo 18,000 square metre telescope near Canberra into a wide-field (12 square degree) camera that images the radio sky at millisecond timescales. To achieve this we will deploy 24 5-teraflop GPUs in a supercomputer that will process 22 Gigabytes of data every second to undertake the most sensitive search for radio bursts at cosmological distances. In this second project, we are looking for someone to help commission this powerful instrument, preferably with strong computing skills.
Millisecond pulsars offer the ability to measure pulse arrival times to 100 nanosecond precision. At such precision one can hope to see the influence of supermassive black hole binaries on their arrival times and potentially make the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves. At Swinburne we are members of the Parkes pulsar timing array for gravitational wave detection, and lead the South African MeerKAT proposal with the same aim. This project seeks a careful student who can help us help us test the theory of General Relativity and search for gravitational waves.
Supervisor: A.Prof. Virginia Kilborn
We are becoming increasingly aware that the galaxy group environment plays an important role in the evolution of galaxies. Galaxy groups are the most common environment in the Universe (over 50% of galaxies live in groups), and the proximity of galaxies in groups, and their low velocity dispersions provide conditions conducive to galaxy interactions. Many of the properties of clusters (e.g. high early-type fractions, redder stellar populations) are often observed in the group environment. This project will take a detailed look at the star forming properties of galaxies in nearby groups, using observations of their neutral hydrogen content, and current star formation rates. The neutral hydrogen (HI) observations are taken from the HI Parkes All Sky Survey (HIPASS) with high-resolution follow-up observations from the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA). The star-forming properties of the galaxies will come from the Survey of Ionization in Neutral Gas Galaxies (SINGG).
The SINGG survey was an H-alpha follow-up program, examining the star forming properties of HIPASS galaxies. Around 400 galaxies were observed in the Survey. Most of the galaxies observed were found to correspond with individual star forming galaxies - however, in about 5% of the cases there are four or more H-alpha emitting galaxies at the position of the HIPASS source. The HIPASS observations have very poor resolution so we do not know the HI content of the individual SINGG galaxies. To overcome this problem, we have performed high-resolution HI imaging with the ATCA - these data will allow us to distinguish the HI content of the individual galaxies. Since HI typically exists in a disk extending out beyond the optically bright portion of galaxies, it often shows signs of tidal disturbance and interaction. This the HI in these fields may give a better indication of how the galaxies in these groups are interacting. The student will assist in the observations, data reduction and analysis of the HI data. It is envisioned that the PhD student will lead this project and extend the data to other wavelength domains. This project will be co-supervised by Prof. Gerhardt Meurer (University of Western Australia).
Supervisors: Prof. Jeremy Mould & George Djorgovski (Caltech)
The Catalina Real Time Transient Survey http://crts.caltech.edu/ has found over 100 supernovae in the Siding Spring Observatory channel alone. They all need calibrated light curve and redshift followup to be useful for cosmology. The student will undertake the followup using northern and southern hemisphere telescopes. One year will be spent at Caltech using the Palomar 60 inch and working with survey leader, Djorgovski. The remaining time the student will work at Swinburne as part of the CAASTRO transient universe and dark universe teams. Redshift measurements will employ the WiFeS instrument at the ANU's 2.3-m telescope, available to Swinburne astronomers via the 2013 LIEF detector upgrade.
See http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2013ApJ...770...29C and Mould & Uddin, 2014 PASA, in press.
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Mackie
The morphology-density relation for dwarf galaxies as displayed in the Local Group of galaxies suggests that dwarf irregular (dIrr) galaxies evolve into dwarf spheroidals (dSph), possibly due to the influence of massive galaxies. Although how thin, cold gas disks evolve into gas-poor, pressure supported spheroids is presently unclear. There does appear to be a 'transitional' type of dwarf galaxy (dTrans) that shares characteristics of dSphs and dIrrs. Recent surface photometry showing "outside-in" disk growth in dIrrs suggestive of stellar feedback regulation still has to be reconciled with HST colour magnitude diagrams (CMD) observed sustained starbursts that rule out such "self-quenching". The role of external processes associated with high mass galaxies may be overemphasised if the morphology-density relation is driven via (secular) evolutionary change.
The aim of this work is to examine deep wide-field imagery of dwarf galaxies to derive observed global quantities such as CMDs (nuclear and at large radii) and disk scale lengths via surface brightness profile fitting and to search for faint-light asymmetries or tidal tails. Some of the questions to be asked in this project include:
Are dIrrs in a process of rapid transformation? Do dIrrs may have different disk growth scenarios than more luminous spirals? Why are some dSphs found at large distances from luminous galaxies?
Supervisor: Prof. Duncan Forbes
A wide-field image of NGC 1407 and NGC 1400 in the
Eridanus group taken with the Subaru 8m telescope. The
image shows a large number of globular clusters in the
halo of NGC 1407.
The halos of elliptical galaxies have been poorly probed to date and yet they contain the vast bulk of a galaxy's dark matter. Using telescopes such as the Keck 10m and Subaru 8m located in Hawaii, and the Hubble Space Telescope, this project will obtain new dynamical and chemical information for nearby ellipticals. Galaxy and globular cluster data will be used to constrain the dark matter content of the host galaxy and to better understand galaxy formation processes. Skills in imaging and spectroscopy with large telescopes will be acquired. The project is likely to involve collaboration with colleagues based in California.
Supervisor: Prof. Karl Glazebrook
The two parameters of mass and angular momentum are among the most fundamental properties of galaxies. Together they may explain the main sequence of properties of spiral galaxies and may even explain the whole Hubble sequence including elliptical galaxies. Whilst the mass distribution has been well measured by spectroscopic galaxy surveys the angular momentum distribution has not as it required 2D spectroscopic information for every galaxy. With the advent of large integral field surveys such as the SAMI Integral Field Survey it will finally be possible for the first time to account for the statistical distribution of angular momentum and mass in the Universe and compare with the predictions of galaxy formation models. This PhD project will be to take part in SAMI observing and data reduction, measure these distribution functions from SAMI data, participate in follow-up observations (e.g. on Keck and Gemini telescopes) and compare with model universes generated by SAMI collaborators.
Supervisor: Dr. Jeff Cooke
A super-luminous supernova in the early Universe.
The simulated supernova here is superimposed on
a cosmological galaxy simulation displaying the
Universe as it likely appeared 11 billion years ago
(credit: Marie Martig and Adrian Malec)
Recently, a rare class of stellar explosions, termed super-luminous supernovae, have been discovered that are 10-100 times more luminous than normal supernovae. The mechanisms behind these extraordinarily energetic events are still a mystery. Some super-luminous supernovae may result from interaction between the supernova and material surrounding the star and others may result from the spin-down of a highly magnetised neutron star (a magnetar). Finally, a small sub-class may result from the deaths of very massive stars, about 150-250 times the mass of the Sun, and may be the first observational examples of a long-theorised explosion mechanism, termed pair-instability supernovae.
The extreme luminosity of super-luminous supernovae enable their discovery out to the most distant galaxies in the visible Universe. Currently, these events have been detected out to redshift, z ~ 4, corresponding to a look-back time of about 12 billion years, or when the Universe was only 10% its current age. Our team has led this research and is conducting new surveys aimed at expanding and extending the range of detections to include the deaths of the first stars. The first generation of stars to form after the Big Bang were created from pristine gas consisting of only hydrogen and helium. These stars were truly unique and the detection of their deaths is considered the "Holy Grail" of supernova science. The heavy elements created by the first stars were dispersed into their surroundings by their supernova deaths and enabled the formation of later generations of more metal-rich stars including our Sun. Many of the first stars are believed to have formed with high masses, thus, a significant fraction likely resulted in super-luminous supernovae. Because pristine gas has been detected at look-back times of about 11 billion years, the detection of super-luminous supernovae using existing techniques provides the first viable means to observe the deaths of the first stars.
The PhD work involves the acquisition of data using the Keck, CTIO, and potentially the Subaru and Magellan telescopes and the reduction and analysis of these data along with existing imaging and spectroscopic data from the Keck, CTIO and CFHT observatories. You will lead searches for super-luminous and other UV-luminous supernova types at high redshift and interpret the results in the context of the first stars. The project will characterise the supernova properties and will include a detailed study of supernova host galaxies, high redshift galaxies in general, and their environments.
Supervisor: Dr. Jeff Cooke
The Hubble Extreme Deep Field. Deep images like this
reveal the colors and morphology of galaxies in the early
Universe. The Lyman alpha feature in the spectra of
these galaxies may provide the clue to resolving several
key problems in galaxy formation and evolution.
(Credit: NASA, ESA, and the HUDF09 team)
The Lyman alpha (Lya) atomic transition is typically the strongest feature in the spectra of high redshift galaxies but is perhaps the most complex and the least understood. Nevertheless, this single feature exhibits a strong relationship with a multitude of intrinsic and, surprisingly, extrinsic galaxy properties. Intrinsically, Lya correlates with the strength of interstellar metal absorption lines, dust content/reddening/colour, and strength of galactic outflows. In addition, Lya correlates with galaxy morphology and, recently suggested by our work, galaxy kinematics. Extrinsically, we have uncovered a strong relationship between Lya and the large-scale environment - whether or not host galaxies reside in group/cluster environments (overdensities) or in group outskirts and in the field. On small-scales, we have found a relationship between Lya and galaxy pair separation which is likely caused by mergers/interactions. Finally, recent work is revealing a relationship between Lya and the fraction of escaping highly-energetic ionizing photons (Lyman continuum photons) from galaxies that are likely the main contributor to the reionisation of the Universe.
The project involves the acquisition, reduction, and analysis of imaging and spectroscopic data from the Keck telescopes and potentially other 8m-class telescopes, combined with previously acquired data from various other major telescopes worldwide. The project focuses on galaxies at redshifts z ~ 2 - 6 (or lookback times of 10 - 12.5 billion years when the Universe was 10 - 25% its current age) when galaxies were in an important formative stage. You will synthesise these data to quantify and better understand the link between Lya and the large number of seemingly unrelated properties (listed above) in an effort to help resolve several outstanding problems in galaxy formation and evolution.
Supervisors: Prof. Sarah Maddison & Dr Jonti Horner (UNSW)
Mean dynamical lifetimes of test "Earths" in the
habitable zone of HD204313 as a function of their
semi-major axis and eccentricity.
(Credit: Thilliez et al. 2014)
In recent years, a significant number of multiple planet systems have been discovered around nearby stars, and dynamical methods have become increasingly important in the discovery and categorisation of exoplanets. The search for exoplanets is now moving into a new era, where astronomers seek to quantify the number of Solar System analogues around other stars. Such system will feature potentially habitable rocky planets like the Earth, and massive Jupiter-like planets moving on decades-long orbits. But where should we look? How do we decide which exoplanetary systems are the most promising locations for potentially Earth-like planets? And which systems are most likely to host as-yet undetected Jupiter-like planets? Using a new theoretical framework, this project will use numerical techniques to search for dynamically stable planet candidates in the habitable zones of known multiple planet systems to provide answers to these questions. The results of this research will produce a list of promising targets for planet search programs as they search for planetary systems like our own.