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 - Pulsar Timing
A.Prof Chris Blake
- No projects offered at this time
Dr. Barbara Catinella
Prof. Warrick Couch
A.Prof. Darren Croton
- No projects offered at this time
A.Prof. Chris Fluke
Prof. Duncan Forbes
Prof. Karl Glazebrook
- Does not have a specific project listed but interested in talking to potential students about a range of projects.
Prof. Alister Graham
A.Prof. Jarrod Hurley
Dr. Virginia Kilborn
Dr. Glen Mackie
A.Prof. Sarah Maddison
Prof. Jeremy Mould
A.Prof. Michael Murphy
- No projects offered at this time
Dr. Emma Ryan-Weber
Dr. Willem van Straten
Supervisor: A.Prof. Jarrod Hurley
Simulated star cluster created
using an N-body code run
on the Swinburne GPU supercomputer
(credit: simulation by Jarrod Hurley,
visualisation by David Barnes).
Despite our in situ view of our Milky Way galaxy and our ability to observe its properties in great detail, we remain highly ignorant about its formation and assembly. The primary goal of this project is to take the archaeology of the Milky Way, and indeed galaxies in general, to a completely new level. This will be done by combining the most ancient and hence best fossil records of past galaxy history - globular star clusters - with the predictive power of state-of-the-art numerical simulations. Specifically, the project will combine galactic-scale simulations of star cluster formation with N-body simulations of star cluster evolution to develop the first non-simplistic picture of how a globular cluster system evolves with time and to determine how this impacts our interpretation of observed Galactic and extragalactic globular cluster systems. Results will include detailed predictions of the internal properties of star clusters - to be confronted with the latest observations - and an insight to the complex and dynamic merger processes that affect the galaxies of our Local Group, and beyond, even today. The grand aim of this project is to place the formation and evolution of globular clusters in its proper cosmological context
Supervisor: Dr. Emma Ryan-Weber
Ionized bubbles first appear in the regions of
the Universe with the most number of galaxies
(credit Trac & Gnedin)
A major goal of extragalactic astronomy is to understand and identify the end of the 'dark ages' when the first stars and galaxies were assembled. We have yet to discover when the starlight from the first galaxies lit up the Universe, ionizing the surrounding neutral hydrogen gas. This process is known as reionization.
The aim of this project is to detect elements (e.g. carbon, silicon) in the early Universe. It involves spectroscopy on the Keck and ESO telescopes at optical and near-IR wavelengths. The close link between the ionizing flux from stars and the elements they produce allows us to make a measurement of the number of ionizing photons emitted in the early Universe. Thus, the observations will provide an independent measure of how many stars were born in the early Universe.
The second phase of the PhD will look at the level of ionization in the intergalactic medium during and after reionization. Does the number density of elements in low and high ionization regions (i.e. red and blue patches in the Figure) change with redshift and galaxy density? The student's observations and analysis will provide an observational test for theoretical models that find reionzation proceeds in patchy bubbles (as seen in the Figure).
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: Dr. 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: Dr Barbara Catinella
Atomic Hydrogen emission in the M81 galaxy group (right)
shows a complex network of filaments connecting what appear
like isolated, undisturbed galaxies in stellar light (left).
Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI (Yun et al. 1994).
Despite tremendous progress in our understanding of galaxies, we still lack a clear picture of the role played by the cold gas component - the fuel for future star formation. Indeed, while we measured the stellar properties for millions of galaxies, our current knowledge of the cold gas is limited to just a few tens of thousands of objects in the very local Universe. Luckily this situation is about to change dramatically, thanks to the next generation of radio telescopes under construction in Australia and abroad. We are entering a very exciting time for studies of gas in galaxies.
Naturally, the understanding of the complex galaxy ecosystem entails a detailed investigation of all its baryonic components (i.e. stars, gas in all its phases, and dust), which requires multi-wavelength information for very large samples of galaxies.
This project will involve the analysis of stellar-selected samples extracted from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, GALEX and WISE databases, and the reduction and interpretation of radio data from the Arecibo and ATCA radio telescopes. In the second part of the project, the student will have the opportunity to take advantage of radio data collected by the upcoming next-generation radio surveys, such as WALLABY on ASKAP. Depending on the student interests, this sample will be used to answer some of the key questions on the role of gas in galaxies, such as:
- How does the gas cycle depend on the environment where galaxies reside?
- How is gas accreted onto galaxies? Is gas accreted along with infalling satellites?
- How do galaxies lose their gas? Which physical mechanisms dominate the loss of gas in galaxies, and thus halt their on-going star formation?
- Is there a connection between gas content and nuclear activity?
Supervisor: A.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.
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.
Supervisors: Prof. Matthew Bailes & Dr. Evan Keane
Radio pulsars are amazing objects, neutron stars that spin at up to 700 times per second and emit a radio beam that we can detect using sensitive telescopes. In this project we will be commissioning one of the first wide-field radio telescopes capable of monitoring up to 30 pulsars at once to yield the daily rotational history of over 500 pulsars, a dramatic increase in the number of pulsars timed and their cadence over any existing project. This project will create an enormous database of pulsar rotational histories to learn about their superfluid interiors and the equation of state of nuclear matter.
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: Dr. Virginia Killborn
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).
Supervisor: Prof. Jeremy Mould
The M31 halo is not the simple
protogalaxy Eggen, Lynden-Bell
and Sandage envisaged. Image courtesy
of Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes.
In this project resolved galaxy halo spectra will be investigated with integral field unit spectrographs. Luminous galaxy halos are the remnants of their formation. We need to know their age, kinematic and chemical structure. Minimum ambiguities occur if we analyze the spectra of their main sequence stars. These are available via integral field spectroscopy on the Gemini, AAT and ANU telescopes. We will analyze selected galaxies of the Local Group in this way. Technical details are given in ApJ Letters 755, L14.
Supervisor: Prof. Jeremy Mould
Dome A is the highest point on the antarctic
plateau. Image courtesy of the
Australian Antarctic Division.
In January this year, China installed the first of three 0.5 metre wide-field (1.5x2.9 degree) optical imaging telescopes, AST3-1, at the highest point of the Antarctic plateau. Australia is currently involved in Dome A activities through UNSW's PLATO-A, which will be the primary support platform for AST3, and through equipment to characterise the infrared background and cloud cover at Dome A.
Astronomy Australia Limited has arranged a collaboration between Australian astronomers and the Chinese Academy of Science's AST3 telescopes which operate from Kunlun Station (Dome A). Continuous coverage of the winter sky is obtained. Transient events to search the data for are supernovae, RR Lyrae stars, planetary transits, novae, including ultra luminous novae such as M31-RV. Follow up spectroscopy will be with the WiFeS spectrograph remotely operated from Swinburne.
AAL, UNSW and CAASTRO are holding a 1-day workshop for Australian astronomers to engage with Chinese astronomers involved in the project at Dome A. Selected transient events from the above list will be studied in this PhD thesis. The transient universe is one of CAASTRO's 3 themes.
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.