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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

Dr. Michelle Cluver

A.Prof. Jeff Cooke

Prof. Darren Croton

  • No projects offered at this time

Dr. Adam Deller

A.Prof. Alan Duffy

Dr. David Fisher

A.Prof. Chris Fluke

  • No projects offered at this time

Prof. Duncan Forbes

Prof. Karl Glazebrook

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

Dr. Edward N. Taylor

Project Descriptions

The following set of projects have PhD scholarships already provided:

OzGrav ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery

Discovering the fastest bursts in the Universe

Supervisors: A.Prof. Jeff Cooke

The Swinburne led Deeper, Wider, Faster (DWF) program is the first program able to detect and study the fastest bursts in the Universe (on millisecond-to-hours timescales) such as supernova shock breakouts, kilonovae, flare stars, ultra-fast novae and counterparts to fast radio bursts and gravitational waves. DWF coordinates simultaneous, deep, fast-cadenced observations with radio (e.g., Parkes, Molonglo, VLA, ATCA, MWA), infrared (REM), optical (CTIO DECam, AST3-2, MLO, Zadko), high-energy (NASA Swift space telescope) and gravitational wave (aLIGO, Virgo, GEO) facilities. In addition, DWF performs real-time data processing, calibration, and analysis using the Swinburne gSTAR supercomputer and real-time transient identification using software and sophisticated visualisation technology. The fast identifications enable rapid response, 8m-class deep spectroscopy (e.g., Gemini-South) of the events and their host galaxies and conventional ToO spectroscopy (e.g., SALT, 4m AAT, and ANU 2.3m telescopes). Finally, DWF uses a network of 1-10m telescopes worldwide for additional follow-up imaging and spectroscopy at later times (e.g., Keck, SkyMapper, Zadko, ATCA, Swift, REM, AST3-2, MLO).

The PhD project will help coordinate and participate in DWF observation runs and will use the multi-wavelength, deep, fast-cadenced data to discover and investigate hundreds of new Galactic and extragalactic transients. The project also includes developing 1-D and 2-D detection software and searching the data with conventional techniques and machine learning approaches to optimise the science output. DWF observations and detection techniques are blazing the trail for the next generation facilities like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.


Detecting nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves with current and future radio telescopes

Supervisors: Prof. Matthew Bailes and Dr. Ryan Shannon

Gravitational-wave astronomy is revolutionizing the way we look at the Universe. Because they can be produced in places either invisible or hidden from conventional (electromagnetic) observations, gravitational waves are invaluable probes of the astrophysics of the most extreme environments. One potential way to search for gravitational waves is through observations of ultra-stable millisecond pulsars, rapidly rotating neutron stars that beam radio emission out of their magnetic poles. The most likely source of these long-wavelength gravitational waves is from binary supermassive black hole binaries: orbiting pairs of the most massive black holes in the Universe, embedded in the centre of the largest galaxies, that have so far eluded both electromagnetic and gravitational-wave detection. As part of this project, you will join the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA), which leads the world in nanohertz-frequency gravitational wave science. Your contributions will lead to improved methods for observing pulsars and searching for gravitational waves and accelerating nanohertz-frequency gravitational wave detection. Your contributions to the PPTA project could include:

  • Commissioning new instruments and developing wide band pulsar-timing methods for use at the Parkes Radio Telescope and the meerKAT array in South Africa
  • Producing the most sensitive data sets for nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves.
  • Searching for gravitational waves in PPTA and International data sets.
  • Developing strategies for incorporating new telescopes (such as FAST and meerKAT) into pulsar timing arrays.

Specific contributions will depend on your interests. Through this project you will gain experience with computation and signal processing while doing cutting-edge astrophysics. You will gain experience working in a large group and collaborate with a global network of astronomers working with the world’s largest radio telescopes.


Searching for gravitational waves with LIGO

Supervisors: Prof. Matthew Bailes, Simon Stevenson (Swinburne) and Rory Smith (Monash)

Two black holes just prior to coalescence. LIGO has detected many
instances of gravitational wave "death spirals" and revealing many
surprises about Einstein's Universe.

With the development of the advanced LIGO gravitational wave detector, a new window on the Universe has been opened and the results are spectacular! Astronomers are now regularly witnessing the death spirals of relativistic objects such as black holes 30 times the mass of our own sun and with future upgrades will soon be extending LIGO's reach to greater and greater distances. This project will take the LIGO data and use it to search for gravitational wave events on the new Swinburne supercomputer "OzStar", supplying triggers to observers across the electromagnetic spectrum and simulating events from a myriad of merger types (neutron star and black holes) to ascertain the true sensitivity of the detector and the event rates in the Universe. Finally we will explore what the next generation "3G" detectors will see when they extend LIGO's reach by another order of magnitude. Students will be a member of the ARC Centre of Excellenc "OzGrav" and have access to a national and international network of experts on gravitational wave detection and astrophysics.


ASTRO-3D ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3-Dimensions

Polluting the First Galaxies

Supervisors: A.Prof. Alan Duffy and A.Prof. Emma Ryan-Weber

In the first billion years after the big bang the universe was filled with light as bright new stars formed within the rapidly growing First Galaxies. Due to their enormous distances from us these First Galaxies are incredible faint, accessible only by the most powerful of telescopes. Yet even with these telescopes the picture is far from clear, and instead supercomputer simulations of the early universe are able to inform what we do see. This project will investigate the new elements that are flung from exploding supernovae into the gas around galaxies, polluting the pristine material from the Big Bang, leaving their mark on the early history of our Universe.

A series of hydrodynamical simulations, including the ASTRO3D Genesis Simulations, created on the largest supercomputers across Australia. This catalogue will be used to test the manner in which galaxies in the first billion years of the universe grew, how the products (such as the oxygen we breath) from these early forming stars spread throughout the universe. How these metals pollute the gas around galaxies will then be directly compared with the latest observations at Swinburne of metals around early galaxies found using the giant Keck and Subaru telescopes, and now the VLT through the new ESO – Australian Strategic Partnership.


Projects associated with other 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.


Solving the mystery of lenticular galaxies

Supervisors: Prof. Duncan Forbes

Lenticular (or S0) galaxies form the link in the Hubble sequence between spiral and elliptical galaxies. Yet since their discovery, no single formation pathway has been identified and they remain the subject of much debate. Using new instrumentation on the Keck 10m telescope combined with the latest hydrodynamical simulations, this project aims to address S0 formation anew and solve this long standing mystery. The project involves collaborators across Australia and in California.


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.


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

Testing the cosmological model with the Taipan Galaxy Survey

Supervisors: Prof. Chris Blake

The UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory,
where the Taipan Galaxy Survey will take place

One of the most fundamental tasks facing astronomers is to determine the cosmological model describing the physics of the expanding universe, in terms of its matter-energy content and the laws of gravity. Recent observations of the universe show that our current understanding of the relevant physics is profoundly incomplete, forcing cosmologists to invoke a mysterious dark energy, that propels an apparent acceleration in the present-day cosmic expansion rate.

The Taipan Galaxy Survey is a new Australian-based project that will measure redshifts for 1,000,000 galaxies and peculiar velocities for 100,000 galaxies, mapping out the large-scale structure of the local Universe. The resulting dataset will yield the most precise direct measurement of the present-day expansion rate of the universe, the largest maps of the density and velocity fields of local structures, and new and stringent tests of large-scale gravitational physics using galaxy motions, probing Einstein’s theory of gravity and alternatives.

Depending on the skills and interests of the student, this project could involve a focus on observations, data analysis or theory within a key science investigation in the 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.


Angular Momentum and the Origin of the Hubble Sequence

Supervisors: Prof. Karl Glazebrook & Dr. David Fisher & Danail Obreschkow (ICRAR/UWA) & Roberto Abraham (Toronto)

Angular momentum is fundamentally linked to the morphological
appearance of galaxies on the Hubble Sequence.

Galaxies today are divided into two broad classes: fast rotating spiral galaxies and slow rotating elliptical galaxies. Modern observations are now showing that it may be this significant difference in angular momentum, and the change in angular momentum over time as galaxies accrete in the middle of dark matter halos, that drives the origin and development of Hubble’s famous morphological sequence.

In this PhD project we aim to measure the evolution in angular momentum across cosmic time and determine how it drives the development of galaxy morphology. In particular we will measure the angular momentum of early high-redshift star-forming galaxies using adaptive optics observations with the Keck and VLT telescopes to see how the internal angular momentum distribution within galaxy disks changes across cosmic time and how this drives the evolution from an irregular, clumpy morphology towards regular spiral disks. These observations will be compared with new high-resolution simulations of galaxy formation and with low-redshift observational baselines that we have established. We will also use the ALMA sub-mm telescope to study how this relates to the evolution of the molecular gas of disks.

Thus project is part of an extremely active collaboration between Swinburne and the University of Western Australia, funded by the Australian Research Council. It will require hands on observational skills with some of the world’s most advanced telescopes.


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.


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.


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.


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.