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Vacation Scholarships in Astronomy at CAS

The Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing (CAS) accepts applications for Vacation Scholarships from enthusiastic university students with excellent scholastic records who are in the last, or second last, year of their undergraduate or Honours/Masters degree.

With 16 research faculty and more than 30 post-docs and PhD students, CAS is a vibrant, friendly environment for studying most fields of astronomy. Swinburne astronomers have guaranteed access to the twin Keck 10-m Telescopes in Hawaii - the world's premier optical observatory - and CAS owns and operates one of Australia's most powerful supercomputers - the Green & Gstar Machines . We also develop advanced immersive 3D data visualization facilities and create 3-D animations and movies promoting and explaining astronomy to the broader community.

Swinburne's Hawthorn campus is situated in a lively, urban setting just minutes by public transport from Melbourne's city centre.

Our Vacation Scholarship program aims to provide undergraduate students with some insight into how exciting research is and how it is conducted. Students will join a research project, or maybe help start a new one, in one of the many areas of astronomy in which CAS staff and post-docs are experts. The various projects on offer are listed below. Projects can involve all aspects of astronomical research, from proposing or carrying out new telescope observations, to analysing some of the data or conducting theoretical calculations or advanced simulations. Many previous students have eventually published peer-reviewed research articles on some of their Vacation Scholarship research.

Applications can be made at any time throughout the year. We particularly encourage applicants to work over the summer months, December to February.

This program is open to undergraduates at Australian & New Zealand universities. Applications from students outside of Australia & New Zealand with exceptional scholastic records may also be considered.

Scholarships will generally last between 8 and 10 weeks, to be negotiated between the student and their nominated supervisor. Vacation Scholars are paid a tax-free stipend of $500 per week.

Applications should include the following:

  • A cover letter (see below for further information);
  • A copy of your official academic record, including an explanation of the grading system used;
  • Your Curriculum Vitae;
  • Any supporting documentation of previous research.

Applicants should also ask a lecturer or supervisor at their current university to send a letter of recommendation. This should be sent by the lecturer/supervisor directly; applicants should not include reference letters in their own application.

Applications and reference letters should be emailed to Dr. David Fisher ( with the above information attached (preferably as PDF documents).

The cover letter is important and should
(i) set out why you are interested in undertaking a vacation scholarship at Swinburne and
(ii) list at least two research projects you are interested in working on. See below for the current list of projects on offer.

Potential Vacation Scholarship research projects

The following list outlines particular projects currently on offer. Other projects not listed here may also arise. If you have questions, contact David Fisher at the email above.

(Updated 07/10/2016)
  • How the of abundance of dark matter halos can be used to probe the universe:
    Dark Matter halos are the building block of the cosmic structure. By counting how many form at a given cosmic time, we can learn about the dynamic of our univers. In this project, the student will test the impact of non-standard cosmology on the expected number of dark matter halos and in particular the impact of the halo identification. This project also aim to develop the computational skills of the student as it will involve some coding tasks.
    Supervisor:Dr. Ixandra Achitouv

  • Precision measurement of fundamental constants in the distant universe: preparing for ESPRESSO
    Absorption lines seen in the spectra of distant quasars can be used to determine the values of fundamental constants in the early universe, and to understand whether they are truly constant or not. A new spectrograph, called ESPRESSO, on the European Southern Observatory's 8-metre Very Large Telescope in Chile is about to be commissioned, partly to find extra-solar planets, and partly to make the most reliable fundamental constant measurements yet. However, the very high quality of spectra that it will produce challenge our current ability to analyse them, so we need to improve our analysis methods before ESPRESSO's data arrives. This project can take several different routes, but one example is to attempt to find a simple, fairly automated method for fitting profiles to the absorption lines in the spectra - a crucial stage in the analysis. We will explore some published attempts at this problem and try to find new ways that improve upon or complement them.
    Supervisor:Prof. Micheal Murphy

  • Deeper, Wider, Faster: Discovering the fastest bursts in the Universe
    Swinburne leads the large, novel Deeper, Wider, Faster (DWF) program that is the first program able to detect and study the fastest bursts in the Universe (on millisecond-to-hours timescales) such as fast radio bursts (FRBs), gamma-ray busts (GRBs), supernova shock breakouts, kilonovae (the merger of two neutron stars), `dark' or `bursty' gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), flare stars, and a number of other events, including new classes of events never before observed. Previously, such short events have been unexplored due to telescope, instrument and technological challenges. Swinburne's DWF program is able to overcome these challenges by coordinating simultaneous, deep, fast-paced observations with the Parkes and Molonglo radio telescopes in Australia, the CTIO DECam optical telescope in Chile, and the NASA Swift gamma-ray, x-ray, and ultraviolet telescope in space. In addition, DWF has developed real-time data processing, calibration, analysis and transient identification using software and sophisticated visualisation technology. The fast identifications enable fast, deep spectroscopy of the events and their host galaxies using the Gemini-South 8m telescope in Chile and spectroscopic follow-up using the 11m SALT telescope in South Africa and the 4m AAT in Australia. Finally, DWF uses a network of 1-10m telescopes worldwide for additional follow-up imaging and spectroscopy at later times.

    The student will search the DWF multi-wavelength (radio, optical, UV, x-ray, and gamma-ray) data to discover fast transients and learn several important skills along the way. The project will focus on searching the data with conventional techniques and/or exploring the dataset with machine learning approaches, depending on the interests and experience of the student. Fast transient events discovered meeting criteria expected to produce gravitational waves will be used to `reverse' search the LIGO detector databases for deeper, more sensitive gravitational wave searches.
    Supervisor:Dr. Jeff Cooke