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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 18 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 will preference undergraduates at Australian & New Zealand universities. Applications from students outside of Australia & New Zealand with exceptional scholastic records may also be considered.

Applications will be considered as they come. However, we strongly recommend all applications be sent in before October 15.

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 28-August-2017)
  • Observing faint gas around galaxies:
    The student will be involved in preparing for ground-breaking observations of the faint gas around galaxies using the brand new Keck Cosmic Web Imager this coming January. They will analyse Hubble Space Telescope data, searching for high redshift galaxies that are likely associated with circumgalactic gas detected in the spectra of bright background sources. The analysis will be key to forth coming Keck observations, which will result in at least two high-impact publications. If the student wishes to continue on to the PhD program at Swinburne, they would be more than welcome to continue with this ongoing program and to begin working directly with this cutting-edge Keck Cosmic Web Imager data.
    Supervisors:Dr. Glenn Kacprzak and Dr. Nikole Nielsen

  • Exploring the largest ever survey of nearby galaxies
    In November, we will begin what will be the largest ever survey of galaxies in the local universe, using the completely refurbished and fully automated 1.2m UK Schmidt Telescope, which is located near Coonabarabran in NSW.  Over the course of the next 4-5 years, the Taipan Galaxy Survey aims to measure distances to and the basic properties of more than 20 million galaxies across the entire Southern sky. The goal of this student project will be to start exploring and exploiting the early Taipan data, including the measurement of fundamental galaxy parameters (like size, mass, star formation rates, and so on), with a view to establishing the basic correlations and scaling relations that describe the local galaxy population.
    Supervisor:Dr. Edward Taylor

  • 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:A.Prof. Jeff Cooke

  • Black holes in star clusters
    At the centre of every massive galaxy lies a super-massive black hole. How did they form? One hypothesis is that these super-massive black holes were assembled from intermediate mass black holes, which were donated to the massive galaxy by infalling star clusters. We are testing whether or not star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy contain intermediate mass black holes. In this project you will work with data from Keck, the world's largest optical telescopes, to measure the velocities of 800 stars in a nearby star cluster that is a prime candidate for hosting such an unusual object. Some programming experience would be helpful, especially IDL or similar.
    Supervisor:Dr. Sarah Sweet

  • The chemical content of galaxies near and far
    Chemical content is an important signature of a galaxy's lifecycle. There are two equally-justifiable methods for measuring chemical content based on regions of active star formation within galaxies, but the methods are not properly calibrated, so they do not agree. Moreover, they are valid in different regimes, so that we cannot accurately compare distant and nearby galaxies, or massive with small ones. We are using the tiny bundles of optical fibres of the Sydney-AAO Multiple Integral field unit (SAMI) to obtain a complete picture of star-forming regions in nearby galaxies, and recalibrate the chemical content measurements. In this project you will measure one hundred star-forming regions and construct maps of key properties such as temperature, ionization and emission line strength. Some programming experience would be helpful, especially python or similar.
    Supervisor:Dr. Sarah Sweet