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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

Prof. Jean Brodie

  • No projects offered at this time

A.Prof. Michelle Cluver

Prof. Jeff Cooke

Prof. Darren Croton

  • No projects available at this time

Dr. Rebecca Davies

  • No projects available at this time

Prof. Adam Deller

Prof. Alan Duffy

  • No projects offered at this time

A.Prof. Deanne Fisher

Dr. Chris Flynn

Prof. Christropher Fluke

Prof. Duncan Forbes

Prof. Karl Glazebrook

Prof. Alister Graham

Prof. Jarrod Hurley

A.Prof. Glenn Kacprzak

Prof. Virginia Kilborn

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Ivo Labbe

Dr. Ben McAllister

Dr. Anais Möller

Prof. Jeremy Mould

Prof. Michael Murphy

Dr. Themiya Nanayakkara

  • No projects available at this time

Dr. Jade Powell

  • No projects available at this time

Dr Daniel Reardon

Prof. Emma Ryan-Weber

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Ryan Shannon

Dr. Simon Stevenson

  • No projects available at this time

A.Prof. Edward N. Taylor

Project Descriptions

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

Millisecond Pulsar Hunting and Timing

Supervisors: Prof. Matthew Bailes and Prof. Adam Deller

Millisecond Pulsars (MSPs) are Nature's clocks, spinning up to almost 800 times per second. These neutron stars are being used to explore the stability of the very fabric of space time via pulsar timing arrays. Spacetime is a 4D continuum, and in the distant Universe pairs of supermassive black holes send out cosmic ripples that manifest themselves as nanosecond time delays in pulsar arrival times. Using a bold new digital capture system at the South African Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope, the MeerKAT, this project will pioneer new signal processing algorithms that will purify the 1.6 terabits per second generated by the array to discover millisecond pulsars in the cores of globular clusters, and improve the precision of millisecond pulsar timing, as we define the ultimate stability of the space-time continuum. Students will gain experience in very high speed signal processing on the Swinburne supercomputer and be well-poised to seek employment in both astrophysics and the technical development of the Square Kilometre Array when it comes online in the late 2020s.


The habitats of the nearest groups in the universe

Supervisor: A.Prof. Michelle Cluver

The galaxies that reside in local large scale structures provide a unique opportunity to study the most recent mass assembly in our Universe. As groups coalesce into clusters, which in turn become assimilated into superclusters, the local universe provides us with a snapshot that encodes how the baryon cycle of a galaxy is being influenced by its habitat. The closest structures provide the most complete view of the mechanisms at work, down to the lowest galaxy masses. In this project we will combine a new state-of-the-art group catalogue from the 2MASS Redshift Survey with stellar mass and star formation measures from the WISE mid-infrared survey, to study how galaxies and groups are pre-processed in the southern large scale structure region spanning the Pavo-Indus Supercluster and the Eridanus and Fornax Clusters.


Does environment matter and should we be worried if it doesn’t?

Supervisors: A. Prof. Michelle Cluver

Understanding how galaxies are potentially shaped by their small-scale environments and/or their situation within large-scale structure requires us to separately test the impact of each. This allows us to determine if and where the evolution of a galaxy is being influenced by external factors, crucial to identifying the relevant physical mechanisms at work (or play?). Our team has curated a bespoke mid-infrared photometry catalogue for z<0.1 galaxies within 384 square degrees of the KiDS-S region, using data from the WISE telescope. Combining the resulting measures of star formation and stellar mass with state-of-the-art characterisation of local and large-scale structure environment, we can look for signatures of pre-processing, and isolate/characterise potential sites of transformation. These sites will be prime targets for follow-up observations using the SKA Pathfinders.


Observing the most extreme explosions and distant galaxy interactions to test fundamental theories

Supervisors: Prof. Jeff Cooke

Two of the most extreme explosions in the Universe are superluminous supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. These events are so luminous that they can be detected across the Universe and all the way back to a time when the first generation of stars formed shortly after the Big Bang. We currently do not know what types of stars create these events, their mass, nor the mechanisms behind their extreme explosion energies. On a separate topic, we all learn that giant molecular clouds of gas and dust collapse to form stars. The timescale in which they collapse is core to our understanding of the formation of stars and galaxies and the evolution of the Universe, yet the timescale of their collapse has never been directly observed.

This project aims to provide the first direct observations to answer the above long-standing questions. The student will use existing, and acquire new, Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb Space Telescope, and Keck observations and apply an innovative method analysing interacting host galaxies to make the first direct measurements of the time it takes for gas clouds to collapse to form stars, and the lifetimes (and, thus, mass) of the specific stars that die as superluminous supernovae or gamma-ray bursts. The spectroscopy gathered in this project will be essential for theoretical models to understand the explosion mechanisms behind superluminous supernovae and gamma-ray bursts.


The Deeper, Wider, Faster program: Discovering the fastest bursts in the Universe

Supervisors: Prof. Jeff Cooke

The Swinburne-led Deeper, Wider, Faster (DWF) program is the first all-wavelength program designed to detect and rapidly follow up the fastest transients in the Universe, such fast radio bursts, supernova shock breakouts, all types of gamma-ray bursts, kilonovae, flare stars, and many other events, including the discovery of unknown classes. DWF is the world's largest collaboration of telescopes, with over 90 major observatories on every continent and in space. DWF coordinates wide-field radio through gamma-ray telescopes, such as Parkes, ASKAP (radio), the South Pole Telescope (mm), CTIO DECam (optical), Astrosat (UV), HXMT (X-ray), and NASA Swift, HESS (gamma-ray), to observe the same fields at the same time. The data are processed in real time either at the telescopes or using the Swinburne supercomputer and transients are identified within minutes of their outbursts in our Swinburne Mission Control room. Fast identification of the transients enables rapid-response spectroscopic and imaging follow up observations before the events fade using the world’s largest telescopes, such as Keck, the VLT, Gemini-South, SALT, the AAT (optical) and ATCA (radio), and NASA Swift (high-energy). Finally, our network of 1-2 metre-class telescopes located worldwide provide simultaneous and/or follow-up imaging and spectroscopy to monitor the events.

The student will participate in the DWF coordinated observing runs and help analyse the data to produce leading transient science. Depending on the interests and experience of the student, the project will involve (1) developing techniques to search the deep optical data to investigate known fast transients and potentially discover new classes of transients, (2) cross-matching multi-wavelength data to extend our knowledge of fast transients and the behavior of new event types, (3) progressing real-time fast transient identification and predictive capabilities using machine and deep learning techniques, and (4) enhancing and accelerating transient discovery by progressing data visualisation and data sonification techniques, including virtual reality and augmented reality analyses.


Imaging and modelling the aftermath of gravitational wave mergers

Supervisor: Prof. Adam Deller

This project aims to capitalise on the dawn of the era of gravitational wave astronomy by studying the radio afterglows that result from gravitational wave merger events in minute detail.  When two compact objects (one neutron star plus a second neutron star or a black hole) merge, a burst of gravitational wave emission is released, and a violent outflow is launched that can lead to pan-chromatic electromagnetic emission.  By studying the radio emission of the outflowing material, we can determine both the characteristics of the outflowing material, and the viewpoint from which we are seeing the system.  Twin inputs are required: 1) ultra-high resolution radio images obtained with intercontinental radio interferometers, and 2) highly sophisticated computational models of the merger.  To date, this has been performed for just one system, the famous NS-NS merger GW170817, for which our team showed that the merger launched a powerful and narrowly collimated jet of material (Mooley, Deller, et al., Nature, 2018).  In the near future, as LIGO/Virgo detects many more NS mergers, we anticipate applying these techniques to an increasing sample of systems, recovering information about the merger events that cannot be obtained from the gravitational wave data alone and also improving on "standard siren" measurements of the expansion of the Universe.   The successful candidate will work with Prof. Adam Deller and an ARC-funded postdoctoral researcher, along with international project partners at Caltech and Tel Aviv University, focusing on the comparison between radio interferometry data and hydrodynamical models to extract physical parameters of the merger afterglow.

Image caption: Model (left) and VLBI data (right) of the radio afterglow of the NS-NS merger event GW170817 (Mooley, Deller, et al., Nature, 2018).  By comparing the VLBI data to a range of hydrodynamical and analytic models, we were able to constrain the viewing geometry of the system and the jet parameters.


Mapping millisecond pulsars throughout the Milky Way with Very Long Baseline Interferometry

Supervisors: Prof. Adam Deller

Weighing more than the Sun but only 20 km in diameter, millisecond pulsars spin tens to hundreds of times per second. This combination of high density and high angular momentum lends itself to extreme rotational stability, which means that the radio beams produced in the magnetospheres of these objects can be used like precision celestial clocks spread across the galaxy. Applications include testing Einstein's theory of General Relativity in strong gravitational fields that cannot be re-created in the solar system, studying the end points of massive star evolution, and searching for the nano-Hertz frequency gravitational waves produced by binary supermassive black holes in distant galaxies. In all of these cases, knowing the distance to the pulsar is a huge advantage to interpreting the precision pulsar "timing", but accurate, model-independent distances are hard to come by for sources that are effectively invisible in the optical and located 10,000 light years away or more. That is where this project comes in: using Very Long Baseline Interferometry in the radio, it is possible to measure the tiny apparent motion of a pulsar in the plane of the sky caused by the Earth's orbital motion around the Sun, and use some high school trigonometry to measure the pulsar's distance. Conceptually simple, yet difficult in practise - the angular displacements involved are on the order of nanoradians, or the width of a human hair at a distance of 100 km! This project will build on previous studies involving a handful of millisecond pulsars and measure the distances to at least 30-40 sources that can be used an array of science cases, most prominently to bolster the search for (and hopefully soon the interpretation of) the nHz stochastic gravitational wave background.


How do exploding stars reshape galaxy evolution?

Supervisors: A.Prof. Deanne Fisher

This PhD uses data from James Webb Space Telescope, and 10 meter optical telescopes to study large scale winds from galaxies. Supernovae are among the most energetic events in the universe, typically outshining the galaxy they occur in. While very uncommon in our own Milky Way, supernovae happen very often in so-called ``star-burst” galaxies that are making new stars at 10-100 times the rate of the Milky Way. In these galaxies, clusters of supernovae explode in the disk, the combined energy and momentum pushes gas up out of the spiral galaxy and into the halo above the disk. This changes the properties of the galaxy, and is considered by most theories to be a linchpin that regulates the growth of galaxies. We view this as faint filaments of gas that extends above star forming galaxies. In this project we will study this gas. The physical properties of the gas directly relate to the physical models of how these large outflows of gas evolve and shape outflows. We have multiple projects on outflows using new observations from JWST, observations from ALMA and a 300+ hour program on the Very Large Telescope to study the outflowing gas. The student will be part of an international team that includes astronomers in Germany, UK, France, USA and Australia. The student will develop skills in python and ``datacube” analysis in astronomy. At Swinburne they will work in a team of 4 HDR students and 2 postdocs, along with myself.

Futher information:


Ultra diffuse galaxies: galaxies at the extremes

Supervisors: Prof. Duncan Forbes

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 some reveal a halo of dark matter similar to that of a giant galaxy making them 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 telescopes (Keck and the VLTs) and involving colleagues in California.

Image caption: Ultra Diffuse Galaxies have the same total luminosity as a dwarf galaxy but the same total mass as a giant galaxy. Some UDGs are 99% composed of dark matter and we don't know why! (Credit: Schoening/Harvey/van Dokkum/NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.


Space system real-time data fusion, integration and cognition

Supervisors: Prof. Christopher Fluke

In many application domains, human operators utilise data visualisations to identify, distinguish and classify signals from noise, and perform anomaly and outlier detection – the process of visual discovery. Increasingly, as more data is available than can be looked at by eye in real-time, new systems and strategies are being developed that rely more heavily on automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. With a particular focus on data-intensive, real-time Space applications (including Mission Planning, Space Domain Awareness, Earth Observation, Defence and National Security), PhD Projects are available with Professor Fluke (SmartSat CRC Professorial Chair) in the following theme areas:

  • Human-Machine Teaming, where human performance at cognition and visualisation is enhanced when working in partnership with intelligent agents;
  • Visual Data Analysis, exploring new approaches to multi-modal data fusion and integration that benefit from high-performance and accelerated computing architectures to support visual discovery at scale; and
  • Extended Reality Visualisation and Discovery, leveraging the continued emergence of virtual reality and augmented reality to enhance insight and understanding from Space data in all its forms.

Caption: Interactive visualisation of 3D hyperspectral survey data on the Swinburne Discovery Wall (Credit: C.Fluke).


The missing population of intermediate mass black holes

Artists's impression of a black hole. Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz.

Supervisor: Prof. Alister Graham

There is a largely-missing population of intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) with masses higher than that formed by single stars today (Mbh=1.4 to 120 MSun) and less massive than the supermassive black holes (SMBHs: 105—1010 MSun) known to reside at the centres of big galaxies.  Not surprisingly, astronomers around the world are hotly pursuing the much-anticipated discovery of IMBHs.  This thesis will involve several interconnected projects involving telescope and satellite image analysis and statistical techniques.  Improved methods for estimating both IMBH and SMBH masses will be developed and applied, with ties to the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope expected.  The coexistence of these massive black holes in dense, compact star clusters at the centres of galaxies is also expected to be a source gravitational radiation detectable by the planned eLISA satellite, for which updated predictions will be made.

Students will benefit from membership in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, OzGrav.


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. This knowledge will be used to pursue a number of exciting topics at the forefront of astronomy. A feeling for the type of research done with Prof. Graham can be seen in his Press Releases.

Image: Artistic impression of a black hole featured on the cover of Swinburne University's 2019 annual report. Credit: James Josephides and Alister Graham.


Immerse yourself in the amazing realm of stars, binaries and star clusters

Supervisors: Prof. Jarrod Hurley

Star, binaries and star clusters are the fundamental building blocks of galaxies and underpin much of what we know about astronomy. Star clusters, in particular, are fascinating laboratories in which to study the mix of stellar, binary and dynamical evolution - with this mix expected to produce much of the stellar exotica that we observe, e.g. blue stragglers, X-ray binaries and mergers of neutron stars and black holes that produce gravitational waves. To model star clusters and their populations we have a direct N-body code and associated stellar/binary population synthesis codes available to run on the OzSTAR supercomputer to investigate a range of potential projects. If you are interested in pushing the boundaries of how stellar populations form, evolve and interact, please get in touch to discuss potential projects. These projects can be designed to cover a range of skillsets and interests, from confronting observations with model data to developing machine learning algorithms to constrain the astrophysical parameter space, to name a couple of examples.

Image caption: An illustration of a binary star system within a globular cluster. Credit: Mark A. Garlick/University of Warwick.


Understanding gas flows in and around galaxies

Supervisors: A.Prof. Glenn Kacprzak and Prof. Michael Murphy

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 harbouring 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.

Image Caption: 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.


Using gravitational lenses to map the diffuse gas around galaxies.

Supervisors: A.Prof. Glenn Kacprzak, Dr. Tania Barone and Prof. Karl Glazebrook

The circumgalactic medium (CGM) comprises gas surrounding a galaxy, constituting roughly 50% of its baryonic matter within the dark matter halo. Integral to the galaxy's evolution, it serves as a reservoir for star-forming material and a repository for outflows from star formation and supermassive black holes, preserving a record of the galaxy's history. However, studying the CGM is challenging due to its diffuse and patchy nature. Current methods rely on observing absorption signatures superimposed on spectra from bright background quasars. Yet, this approach lacks spatial resolution, limiting our ability to analyze CGM comprehensively.

Luckily for us, gravitational lens systems, like the one in the Figure, are increasingly becoming powerful tools to study some of the most elusive aspects of our Universe. Recent studies have shown that brightly lensed arcs around galaxies can be used instead of quasars to probe the faint gas along the line-of-sight, allowing us to study the properties of a galaxy’s CGM at multiple different locations at the same time.

This project will involve analysing new observations from the Keck telescope (KCWI instrument) to spatially map the diffuse gas surrounding massive quiescent galaxies. Using this new and exciting method of “gravitational arc tomography”, you will study the CGM’s properties by measuring the amount of MgII absorption which it imprints onto the spectra of the background lensed galaxy. As part of this project you'll be part of the AGEL (ASTRO 3D Galaxy Evolution with Lenses) Survey, a diverse and friendly research team that spans multiple universities and continents!

Image: HST observations of one of the gravitational lenses we have KCWI data on to study its CGM.


The first galaxies and supermassive black holes with the James Webb Space Telescope

Supervisor: A.Prof. Ivo Labbe

This is the dawn of a new era in extragalactic astronomy. From the moment the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope started observing, roughly one year ago, studies of the early universe have produced one surprise after another: unexpectedly luminous galaxies in the heart of the Dark Ages just 360 million years after the Big Bang, massive dead galaxies only 1 billion years later, and an enigmatic population of faint red sources in the early universe that appear to be a sprawling population of massive galaxies and hidden supermassive black holes (Labbe et al. Nature, 2023).

This is just the beginning. Using the next generation of state-of-the-art imaging and spectroscopic data sets with James Webb, amplified by gravitational lensing, this project will take the next steps to investigate the origins of the first galaxies and black holes and their relation to the familiar galaxies we see at later times. Multiple lines or research are possible depending on the student's interests, as well as opportunities to develop space-based data analysis skills, and data-driven and machine learning techniques. The PhD student will join the active JWST Australian Data Centre at Swinburne and become part of an extensive Swinburne-led international collaboration involving 50 researchers from Australia, USA, and Europe.


Axion Dark Matter Detection

Supervisors: Dr. Ben McAllister

The nature of dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries in modern science – it makes up five sixths of the matter in the Universe, and is of unknown composition. It surrounds and passes through the Earth at all times.

Axions are a hypothetical particle, and one of the leading candidates for dark matter. Swinburne is building a new axion detector to try and measure small effects induced by dark matter when it passes through the laboratory, and shed light on the mystery. The kind of experiment we are building is called an axion haloscope.

The detector is currently being constructed and will be hosted at Swinburne. There is work to be done on various aspects of the project, from optimal detector design, to manufacturing and characterisation, to advanced readout technology, to control software and data analysis.

This project could focus on any of these areas, tailored to fit the skills and interests of the candidate. There is room for multiple students, and you will be working in a small team with other researchers. For example, this project could include aspects of mechanical and RF design, material science, computational modelling, software to control the detector and associated equipment, or on a pipeline to acquire and tease through experimental data for hints of new physics.


Foundation models for extreme transients

Supervisors: Dr. Anais Möller and Prof. Chris Fluke

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory will detect millions of astrophysical transients every night for a decade. This is a unique opportunity to reveal the nature of exploding and tidally destroyed stars.

This project aims to study the death of stars, their extreme physics and environments. Transients that take place near the nucleus of galaxies such as Supernovae and Tidal Disruption Events are of great interest. These transients occur in environments we can’t reproduce on Earth; and their rates as well as their emission mechanisms are mostly unknown.

The student will become a member of the Fink, an international collaboration with real-time access to Rubin’s transient data. The candidate will create high-end Machine Learning models, such as Foundation models, to identify transients in order to pinpoint extreme transients and study their emission mechanisms using multi-wavelength data. Previous machine learning experience is highly recommended.


The velocity field in the nearby Universe

Supervisors: Prof. Jeremy Mould and Prof. Alister Graham

Inhomogeneities in the Universe act on galaxies and perturb the velocities given to them by the expansion of the Universe. These so called peculiar velocities have been used to constrain cosmological parameters and are a test of gravity on very large scales. To measure peculiar velocities we need redshift independent distance indicators, such as the Fundamental Plane, the supernova standard candle and the Tully-Fisher relation.

The Widefield ASKAP L-band Legacy All-sky Blind surveY (or WALLABY) is being conducted on the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), an innovative imaging radio telescope located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. The aim of WALLABY is to use the powerful widefield phased-array technology of ASKAP to observe initially half of the Southern Hemisphere in the 21-cm line of neutral hydrogen at 30-arcsec resolution with sky coverage described here.

The student will measure peculiar velocities for galaxies in the WALLABY survey using the Tully Fisher relation, which connects galaxy luminosities and rotation velocities. The final step is to map the velocities with the aid of Dr. Helene Courtois of the University of Lyon, leader of the CosmicFlows program.


Mapping electromagnetism's strength throughout the Milky Way with solar twin stars

Supervisors: Prof. Michael Murphy

The constancy of nature's laws, characterised by the fundamental constants, has been mapped out on all size-scales, from the laboratory through to the cosmic microwave background at redshift z=1100, except for one important size-scale: our own Milky Way galaxy. This project aims to make the first check on electromagnetism's strength in our Galaxy with high enough precision that a discovery of variation is possible (i.e. not already ruled out by previous, much less precise measurements). The idea is to use the spectra of solar twins – stars with spectra indistinguishable from our Sun's, and each other – as the probe because this allows for a highly differential measurement that will be immune to all manner of systematic effects that have precluded such a measurement in the past.

Depending on the status of this field at the time, there are both observational and theoretical avenues open for this position. For example, the student may either be making the first measurements on existing solar twin spectra, contributing to an effort to identify very distant solar twins, analysing new spectra of these distant solar twins, or making measurements with them. The new spectra would be taken with a new instrument on the 8-metre Very Large Telescope in Chile. Or they may be using advanced quantum mechanical calculations to determine how solar twin spectra depend on fundamental constants. These and other options will be discussed with the candidate.


If we stay very still, can we watch the Universe expand in real time?

Supervisors: Prof. Michael Murphy

The universe is not only expanding, its expansion is accelerating. The evidence for this earned the 2011 Physics Nobel Prize, but we have never actually observed the universe's expansion rate changing with time. Instead we measure the universe's geometry and, through Einstein's equations, infer its dynamics. But are Einstein's equations correct on the global scale of the universe? We don't know – we need to observe the cosmological redshifts of distant objects changing in real time. This "redshift drift" experiment would require exceptionally stable spectrographs and ultra-precise spectroscopy of distant, faint quasars. Can we stay still enough, and watch closely enough to do it? There are many efforts around the world towards this dream.

This project could take many different directions depending on the candidates skills and interests. For example, can we label the wavelengths of light received in our spectrographs accurately enough, using new "laser frequency combs"? We've been performing a new experiment performed with the ESPRESSO spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope in Chile to find out. Another example question is whether we can process the astronomical images of spectra well enough to see such tiny effects. Whichever direction is followed, the candidate will be connected to a network of Australian and European collaborators through the soon-to-be-launched (already funded) ARC Centre for Excellence, COMBS, and working groups of the European Southern Observatory aiming to build a spectrograph on the future, 39-meter Extremely Large Telescope capable of the redshift drift experiment. The possible projects would suit a candidate interested in ultra-precise spectroscopy, data analysis, or astronomical instrumentation.

Image credit: European Southern Observatory


Mapping the cosmic web with Fast Radio Bursts

Supervisors: Prof. Ryan Shannon, Prof. Adam Deller, and Prof. Matthew Bailes

Fast radio bursts are an enigmatic population of transient astronomical events that are promising to be a revolutionary astrophysical tool. The bursts are exciting because they both represent a brand new and unprecedentedly luminous radio transient but are also now demonstrating the ability to uniquely probe the cosmology of the Universe. This project will utilize the wild field of view of the Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) to rapidly increase the population of the bursts and identify hosts, emission mechanisms and explanations for the bursts. ASKAP has proven itself to be a reliable FRB detection machine and localization machine, able to pinpoint burst locations to within galaxies. The localisations have been used to study the intergalactic medium and find the Missing Baryons . In the next year we will be developing a new FRB detection system for ASKAP that will increase its burst detection rate by a factor of 10.

Your project, which would be undertaken as part of the Commensal Real Time ASKAP Fast Transient collaboration could include:

  • Develop novel methods and pipelines to detect bursts in real time.
  • Study the demographics of the burst population, and synthesizing with discoveries made at other facilities.
  • Determine the magneto-ionic properties of the intergalactic medium and host galaxies for FRBs.
  • Conduct multi-wavelength campaigns to identify hosts and counterparts to the bursts as part of our ESO VLT Large Project.
Specific contributions will depend on your interests. In addition, you will also gain hands-on experience with ASKAP. Through all the of the Ph.D. you will gain experience with computation and signal processing while doing cutting-edge astrophysics.

Caption: The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, located in outback Western Australia, is a radio array of 36 antennas. Credit: Alex Cherney/CSIRO.


Mapping the gravitational wave sky with pulsar timing arrays

Supervisors: Prof. Ryan Shannon and Dr. Daniel Reardon

Supermassive black holes - black holes that are billions of times more massive than the Sun, are thought to reside in the Centres of most galaxies. Binary supermassive black holes, produced when galaxies merge, are thought to be the loudest emitters of ultra-low nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves. These gravitational waves can potentially be detected by observing an ensemble of ultra-stable millisecond pulsars (a pulsar timing array) with the most sensitive radio telescopes on Earth. The breakthrough detection is anticipated within the coming years.

In this project, you will develop advanced algorithms to search for, study, and map gravitational wave signal in pulsar timing array data sets. Using the OzStar supercomputer, you will apply these methods to world leading pulsar timing sets, including that from the Swinburne led MeerTime Pulsar Timing Array and the International Pulsar Timing Array. You will interpret the implications of the detections in the context of models of galaxy formation and evolution.

Caption: The 64-dish MeerKAT telescope in South Africa will be extended to form the 196-dish Square Kilometre Array and is used by Swinburne to pioneer signal processing techniques for radio astronomy.


Connecting galaxies to their larger dark matter halos: the stellar-to-halo mass relation

Supervisors: A.Prof. Edward (ned) Taylor

We now understand every galaxy to form and reside at the centre of a larger, diffuse halo of dark matter. As far as we know, the properties of dark matter are very simple: no interactions with itself or other matter except through gravity. This makes dark matter easy to model, but very difficult to observe. By contrast, galaxies are easy enough to find and measure, but disentangling the many and varied mechanisms that influence their formation and evolution is a wicked problem. As the conceptual link between the observed galaxy population and the cosmological population of dark matter halos, the stellar-to-halo mass relation represents a crucial interface between observation and theory: especially in how models are calibrated and/or validated.

The focus of this project will be to map out the connection between galaxies and their halos — that is, the stellar-to-halo mass relation — by combining dark matter statistics from large cosmological simulations with statistics of the galaxy population in the local universe. The work will include measuring the number of galaxies in the nearby Universe as a function of their stellar mass; measuring the clustering statistics of galaxies to constrain their halo mass distribution; and the incorporation of new constraints from weak gravitational lensing from Gurri et al. (2020, 2021).

Image credit: NASA