Skip to Content

Potential PhD Topics

PhD Supervisors

Below are listed those CAS staff who may be currently looking for PhD students.

PhD Projects

Prof. Matthew Bailes

Prof. Chris Blake

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. Michelle Cluver

A.Prof. Jeff Cooke

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Darren Croton

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. Adam Deller

A.Prof. Alan Duffy

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. David Fisher

A.Prof. Chris Fluke

Prof. Duncan Forbes

Prof. Karl Glazebrook

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Alister Graham

Prof. Jarrod Hurley

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. Glenn Kacprzak

Prof. Virginia Kilborn

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. Glen Mackie

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Sarah Maddison

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Jeremy Mould

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Michael Murphy

A.Prof. Emma Ryan-Weber

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. Edward N. Taylor

Project Descriptions

The following set of projects have PhD scholarships already provided:

Projects associated with Australian Research Council funding

Mapping the Universe with Fast Radio Bursts

Supervisors: Prof. Matthew Bailes and Dr. Adam Deller

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are intense, millisecond-long bursts of radio energy that originate from outside our own Galaxy. To date, just a single FRB has been localised to a host galaxy, meaning we have little idea about the nature of FRB progenitors. The upgrade of the Molonglo radio telescope to "UTMOST-2D" will provide the first dedicated FRB search capable of pinpointing bursts to arcsecond precision and identifying their host galaxies. By comparing the FRB "dispersion" (which measures of the number of electrons between thesource and the Earth) to the host galaxy redshift, the FRBs detected by Molonglo can directly measure the density of the intergalactic medium and be used as a cosmic ruler to map the Universe.

This PhD project will involve analysing the population of FRBs detected by UTMOST and making and analysing multiwavelength follow-up observations those pinpointed by UTMOST-2D. Optical identification and spectroscopic characterisation of the host galaxies will be supported by radio continuum, optical, and X-ray searches for afterglow signals, as well as population analyses. The student will join the UTMOST collaboration under the joint supervision of Prof. Matthew Bailes and Dr. Adam Deller.



Hunting Ghost Galaxies

Supervisors: Prof. Duncan Forbes, Prof. Warrick Couch and Dr. Anna Ferre-Mateu

In 2015 a new class of galaxy was discovered - the ghostly Ultra Diffuse Galaxy (UDG). Such galaxies have the same total luminosity as a dwarf galaxy but a halo of dark matter similar to that of a giant galaxy. Some are 99.99% dark matter! Since their discovery they remain a mystery and a challenge to theories of galaxy formation. This PhD project aims to discover more UDGs from deep imaging, determine their stellar population and dynamical properties, and compare them with the latest theoretical models. This project is an observational one, using new data from the world's largest telescope and involving colleagues in California.


The following set of projects are subject to a competitive allocation process where only a limited number of scholarships are available:

An up-close view of extremely gas rich, turbulent disk galaxies

Supervisors: Dr. David Fisher

The top row shows Hubble images of 3 of the turbulent disk galaxies from
the DYNAMO survey. The bright knots in each of these images represent
individual star forming regions with more star formation activity than
entire galaxies, such as in the Milky Way. The student will use data
from Hubble and ALMA (both shown on the bottom row) to study the details
of this “clumpy mode” of star formation, the most important mode of star
formation in the Universe.

Over 80% of stars in the Universe were formed in galaxies 10 billion years ago. These galaxies were marked by drastically high densities of star formation, were super rich in gas, and show evidence of widespread turbulence. Because these galaxies are so different from those galaxies in the local Universe, we cannot assume that local theories of star formation robustly explain such extreme environments. However, these galaxies are also very distant from us. We therefore cannot resolve the star forming regions. This situation has created a very large problem for galaxy evolution: We do not currently understand star formation processes in the most important epoch of galaxy evolution in the history of the Universe.

Our group has mined datasets of hundreds of thousands of galaxies to find a set of rare galaxies in the local Universe which are very closely matched to conditions in galaxies 10 billion years ago. This PhD project will study the properties of these galaxies to determine the stellar mass, stellar populations, star formation rates and gas masses of these massive complexes of star formation found inside nearby turbulent, gas rich galaxies (called the DYNAMO sample). This project has recently been awarded time on Hubble Space Telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), as well as having data from programs with Hubble, NOEMA and Keck. Analyzing data from these exciting telescopes will be the basis of the PhD project.


Understanding Gas Flows in-and-around Galaxies

Supervisors: Dr. Glenn Kacprzak, Dr. Nikole Nielsen and Prof. Michael Murphy

Cool gas (green) from cosmic filaments accretes onto
the galaxy, which drives its rotation and controls the rate at
which it forms stars. Star formation and supernovae expel
gas back into the circumgalatic medium (purple). Background
quasars are used to study these gas flows around galaxies.

Ever wonder why some galaxies form stars while others do not? Or where does all the fuel for star-formation come from and what regulates it? The evolution of galaxies is intimately tied to their gas cycles - the gas accretion, star formation, stellar death and gas expulsion. As galaxies evolve, their gas cycles (known as feedback), give rise to an extended gaseous halo surrounding galaxies. Understanding how feedback works has become recognized as THE critical unknown process missing to fully understand galaxy evolution. Therefore, gaseous galaxy halos are the key astrophysical laboratories harboring the detailed physics of how galactic feedback governs galaxy evolution.

Observationally, galaxy halos are studied with great sensitivity using quasar absorption lines. Imprinted on the quasar spectrum are the motions, chemical content, density, and temperature of the gas. These absorption signatures provide details that are unobtainable using any other method of observation. Here, the student will join an international collaboration and will examine how the host galaxy properties are linked to their circumgalactic gas properties using Hubble Space Telescope and Keck Telescope data.


Simulating the Baryon Cycle of Early Epoch Galaxies

Supervisors: Dr. Glenn Kacprzak, Dr. Nikole Nielsen and Prof. Michael Murphy

Cosmological simulations showing gas flowing along the cosmic web
to drive galaxy formation, while hot gas is being blown out of galaxies
(red) from exploding young stars.

Around 11 billion years ago, galaxies were undergoing their most active phase in life. They were accreting significant amounts of gas along cosmic filaments, which allowed them to more than double their mass, while producing massive star-formation-driven outflows. This balance of gas flows is known as the baryon cycle. We are in the process of acquiring ground-breaking data using the new Keck Cosmic Web Imager on the 10-meter telescope in Hawaii to better understand these gas flows. However, the only way to truly understand our data is to compare them to cosmological simulations.

The student will be involved with an international program to use the MUFASA simulations in collaboration with Romeel Dave (The University of Edinburgh). The student will determine how gas flows in and out of simulated galaxies to understand how galaxies evolve at their most active period in life. While the student's project will be focused primarily on simulations, they can also be involved with the observations, which will provide them with a broad range of experiences with all types of data, best positioning the student for a successful future career.


Using the largest ever spectroscopic galaxy redshift survey to shed light on how galaxies grow

Supervisors: Dr. Edward N. Taylor

The Taipan galaxy survey will measure redshifts for over 1 million galaxies across the entire Southern sky, beginning in the first half of 2017. Together with imaging data covering all wavelength regimes from the near UV through to the mid IR, as well as continuum and 21cm radio data from ASKAP surveys, the Taipan galaxy survey dataset will provide the ultimate laboratory for studying the lifecycle of baryons (gas accretion, star formation, feedback, and outflows) as a function of galaxy mass and environment. This project includes opportunities to help commission the new Taipan survey instrument, including the automated observing system, and to contribute to the development of the data handling software pipeline. (Lots of time at the telescope!) Collaboration opportunities with leaders in the field of galaxy formation and evolution across a number of Australian institutes.


From Feast to Famine: Tracing Transformation in Galaxy Groups

Supervisors: Dr. Michelle Cluver

Most of the galaxies in the local universe find themselves in a group – but what exactly is the environmental impact of growing up in a group? Tidal interactions dominate since groups usually lack a significant hot, X-ray-emitting medium. Tidal torques funnel gas to the centre of galaxies, encouraging the growth of a bulge, while tidal stripping removes gas from the outskirts of galaxies, and in the process forms intragoup cold HI gas. But, we still don’t fully understand the interplay between the physics of these interactions and the chemistry of star formation.

This PhD project requires combining neutral gas (HI) observations from the SKA Pathfinders, MeerKAT and ASKAP, with spectroscopic information from the Taipan galaxy survey and mid-infrared data from the WISE space telescope. This will allow us to study the physical processes transforming galaxies from star-forming to quenched, as well as the short term and long term effects of environment on star formation. The role of intragroup gas in this evolution will be a key consideration since the SKA Pathfinders will provide an unprecedented view of neutral gas in these environments.


Galaxy Structure and massive black holes

Supervisors: Prof. Alister Graham

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.


Weighing the Universe with Deuterium

Supervisors: Prof. Michael Murphy and Dr. Glenn Kacprzak

This project aims to weigh the universe (i.e. measure the number of baryons it contains) by comparing the amount of hydrogen and its main isotope, deuterium, in distant, almost pristine clouds of gas. The baryon fraction is a fundamental quantity in cosmology, so obtaining new measurements using deuterium is essential for detecting any departures from our standard cosmological model. We observe these gas clouds in the spectra of background quasars – the super-bright accretion discs around supermassive black holes – taken with the largest optical telescopes, such as the Keck 10-metre in Hawaii and VLT 8-metre in Chile. Cases where an accurate (and precise) measurement can be made are incredibly rare, but we have identified several new examples that will provide competitive baryon fraction measurements. The aim is to analyse these existing spectra, and obtain new spectra if required, and test the standard cosmological model.

This is a collaboration with astronomers in the US (Vermont & California) and travel to work with these collaborators is foreseen. Observations using either the Keck and/or VLT are also likely during the course of the PhD project.


Pinpointing pulsars with VLBI astrometry

Supervisors: Dr. Adam Deller

Our galaxy is strewn with natural clocks: rotating neutron stars whose predictable spin periods let us time their pulses of radio emission like clock ticks. These radio pulsars can be used test theories of gravitation or models of stellar evolution, or to probe the ionised medium of our galaxy. However, the models of pulse arrival times that facilitates these tests are complicated, comprising many parameters, and are dependent on an accurate model of the solar system ephemeris. By providing independent measurements of some model parameters via direct observation with Very Long Baseline Interferometry, we can test the trustworthiness of pulsar timing and highlight model deficiencies. The discrepancies uncovered in this way can, for instance, be used to improve the solar system ephemeris and facilitate improved tests of general relativity and the first detection of nanohertz gravitational waves. While already of value today, such improvements will be particularly critical in the era of SKA and FAST as the precision of pulsar timing jumps further. Fortunately, these sensitive new telescopes will themselves facilitate improved VLBI astrometry by participating in SKA-VLBI observations. This project will focus on both improving the techniques used for VLBI astrometry to maximise astrometric precision (particularly with highly sensitive telescopes), and using these techniques to uncover subtle errors in current pulsar timing models.


Astronomical knowledge discovery beyond the petascale

Supervisors: A.Prof. Chris Fluke

Description: As astronomy moves ever closer to the Square Kilometre Array's exascale data era, an increasing number of existing desktop-based workflows will fail. Instead, astronomers will turn to automated processing using dedicated high-performance computing resources coupled with advanced data archives. Yet the ability to look at the most important data is crucial. In this project, you will research, design, implement and evaluate new visualisation-based knowledge discovery approaches. The goal is to support interactive, multi-dimensional analysis of data from observations, simulations, model fits and empirical relationships. The research will require an investigation into methods for combining visualisation-directed model-fitting with emerging machine learning techniques - such as Deep Learning - to enhance and accelerate the path to discovery. A key focus will the WALLABY survey of extragalactic neutral hydrogen with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), however, the techniques developed will be suitable for a range of current and future data intensive programs - within and beyond astronomy. All stages of the project will utilise Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) as computational accelerators. The student will also have access to Swinburne University’s Advanced Visualisation facilities: the Enhanced Virtual Reality Theatre and the Swinburne Discovery Wall. This project will suit a student with existing strong programming skills, and interests in GPU-computing and/or data-intensive discovery