Available Projects

For information regarding PhD projects in the different research areas within the Astronomy Unit, please click on the following links. These project descriptions are indicative of the types of PhD projects that we have on offer and only describe the broad outlines of the project that you will undertake if accepted onto our PhD programme. Further details of projects offered by individual staff members may be found by clicking on the links associated with each group member (and then clicking on the PhD project tab). You may contact group members directly to ask for more detail about possible projects, and to develop a project description for your application. The details of a student's actual PhD project are normally decided in discussion between student and supervisor, once the successful student has enrolled and been assigned a supervisor.

Cosmology and relativity

Group Members: Dr. Phil Bull, Dr. Chris Clarkson, Dr. Timothy Clifton, Dr. Karim Malik, Dr. David Mulryne, and Dr. Alkistis Pourtsidou.

For general enquiries about a PhD in cosmology please contact: Dr. David Mulryne.

The research interests of the cosmology group span a wide range of important theoretical topics in modern cosmology. These include the very early universe, with particular emphasis on inflation; the formation of sturcture in the universe, including primordial black holes; the study of cosmic microwave background anisotropies; and numerous aspects of relativistic cosmological modelling. See also projects in the Survey astronomy group.

Possible PhD projects in cosmology include:     

Early universe physics

It is now widely accepted that the very early universe underwent a period of extremely rapid expansion, known as inflation. This period of expansion provides the initial conditions that are necessary to explain the universe we see around us, as well as the seeds of structures that later grow to become galaxies and clusters.

Key elements of a PhD project in early universe physics might typically include:

  • Constructing and studying models of the early universe, developing tools for understanding their consequences, and analysing the observational signatures that they should be expected to produce.
  • Developing techniques for recognising the signatures of different models of the early universe in the cosmic microwave background.
  • Studying the beginnings of structure in the early universe, including the formation and evaporation of primordial black holes.

Foundations of relativistic cosmology

Understanding the behaviour of the universe on the largest scales requires a detailed and careful application of relativity theory. This involves understanding the consequences of the existence of structure in the universe on its large-scale expansion, as well as how to model and constrain the gravitational interaction on cosmological scales.

Key elements of a PhD project might typically include:

  • Constructing inhomogeneous cosmological models, and studying their behaviour on large scales.
  • Finding ways to constrain the gravitational interaction on cosmological scales, and understanding the consequences of deviating away from Einstein's theory.
  • Determining the consequences of interpreting cosmological observations within broader theoretical frameworks, and understanding what this means for the evidence for dark energy.

Frontiers of precision cosmology

Modern observational cosmology is built around a model of the universe that includes linear perturbations around an otherwise spatially homogeneous and isotropic background. In order to gain the maximum possible benefit from current and future observations, however, it will be necessary to understand and use second and higher-order perturbation theory.

Key elements of a PhD project might typically include:

  • Studying and developing cosmological perturbation theory beyond linear order.
  • Determining the observation consequences of higher-order perturbation theory.
  • Understanding new phenomena that become possible at higher-orders, such as the sourcing of non-gaussianity.

Large scale structure: theory and observations

In the next few years, large scale structure surveys with ground and space telescopes such as Euclid, LSST, and the SKA, will provide cosmological measurements of unravelled precision. These data will be used to provide a huge 3D map of the observable Universe and probe the nature of dark energy and gravity. To exploit the power of these surveys, progress on both the theory and observational fronts is essential.

Key elements of a PhD project might typically include:

  • Theory, simulations, and data analysis tools for future large scale structure surveys (Euclid, LSST, SKA)
  •  Radio cosmology with the innovative neutral hydrogen intensity mapping technique
  • Relativistic effects on large scales: theory and observations
  • Understanding and modelling non-linear dark energy effects, which is essential for the correct interpretation of data.


Extrasolar planets, planetary formation and dynamics

Group Members: Dr. Craig Agnor, Dr. Guillem Anglada-Escude,  Dr. James Cho, Prof. Carl Murray, Prof. Richard Nelson, Dr. Sijme-Jan Paardekooper

For general enquiries about a PhD in Extrasolar planets, planetary formation and dynamics please contact Prof. Richard Nelson

Research within the Extrasolar planets, planetary formation and dynamics group encompasses broad themes related to planetary systems. The on-going discovery and characterisation of extrasolar planets provides motivation for significant elements of our research, but we also have strong interests and activities in topics related to our own solar system. Brief descriptions of possible PhD projects are given below, but please note that this list is by no means exhaustive.

  • Detection of extrasolar planets

    The search for extrasolar planets is one of the fastest growing and exciting activities within astrophysics, and in recent years researchers at Queen Mary University of London have made significant and high profile discoveries (e.g. the recent discovery of Proxima b - an apparently Earth-like planet orbiting in the habitable zone planet around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun). PhD projects in this area will normally involve a combination of taking observations, developing tools for the analysis of spectroscopic time series, and analysing data to search for planetary signals.

  • Planetary formation and migration

    A major research theme within the group is the theoretical and computational study of planetary formation. PhD projects in this area normally develop into one of two distinct strands. The first focuses on the detailed gravitational interaction between a planet (or system of planets) with the gaseous protoplanetary disc in which the planet(s) form. This  interaction normally results in an exchange of angular momentum between the disc and planets, causing the planets to undergo radial migration, a process that is clearly important for explaining many of the extrasolar planetary systems that have been discovered. Work on this topic at Queen Mary  normally involves state-of-the-art computation of the disc-planet interaction using 3D hydrodynamic or magnetohydrodynamic codes, in addition to the deployment of mathematical and physical arguments.
    The second strand of planetary formation research normally available as a PhD project involves studying the formation of planetary systems by means of N-body simulations. Research in this area can focus either on the Solar System, or can be applied more broadly in attemtping to explain the structure of extrasolar planetary systems.

  • Planetary collisions

    The formation of planets and their satellites involves collisions. Understanding the outcome of these collisions and their implications is a major topic of research in planet formation. Research at Queen Mary  focuses on direct simulation of planetary collisions using state-of-the-art hydrodynamic codes with the aim of understanding how different collision outcomes affect the overall formation pathways of planetary systems.

  • Dynamics of Saturns rings

    Prof Carl Murry is a member of the imaging team for the Cassini spacecraft that is currently in orbit about Saturn. The main research activities of the group involve analysing Cassini images and performing theoretical/computation work to understand the complex dynamics of the Saturn-ring system. PhD projects in this area will normally involve a combination of image analysis and theoretical work. For example, recent PhD projects have involved computational and theoretical modelling of the interaction between the satellite Prometheus and Saturn's F-ring to explain structure in this ring observed in Cassini images.

  • Dynamics of Planetary Atmospheres

    Another major topic of research is the dynamics and evolution of planetary atmospheres. State-of-the-art simulations are employed to understand the structure and evolution of both terrestrial and giant planet atmospheres, with recent work focusing on the short-period extrasolar giant planets - the so-called `hot Jupiters'. Observations are now routinely carried out that characterise the thermal structure of extrasolar giant planet atmospheres; so opportunities exist to compare the results of theoretical calculations with observational data.

Space and solar plasma physics

Group Members: Prof. D. Burgess, Dr. D. Tsiklauri, and Dr. C. Chen.

For general enquiries about a PhD in Space and solar plasma physics please contact Prof. David Burgess.

The space and solar plasma physics group carries out research into the naturally occurring plasmas which pervade the solar system, and beyond. We use state of the art numerical simulation and analysis of data from scientific spacecraft. The group has a broad range of interests, including the Sun, solar corona, solar wind, collisionless shocks, plasma waves and instabilities, reconnection, and particle acceleration. We have involvement in several spacecraft missions including Cluster, Solar Orbiter and Solar Probe Plus. A brief outline of potential PhD projects is given below.

  • Space and astrophysical plasma physics

    Research areas available for PhD study include: solar wind plasma turbulence; shocks in collisionless plasmas, including the Earth’s bow shock and other heliospheric shocks; particle acceleration. Most projects involve using numerical self-consistent particle simulations, but data analysis work using spacecraft data is also possible.

  • Solar plasma physics

    Topics that may form the basis of PhD projects in Solar plasma physics group are broadly related to: (i) The magnetic energy release in solar atmosphere (The Solar coronal heating problem) and (ii) Particle acceleration (e.g. in Solar flares or Earth magnetosphere Auroral zone). The research work mainly involves large-scale numerical simulations (Vlasov, Particle-in-Cell and Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD)). Research areas available for PhD study include:
    (1) Enhanced Dissipation of MHD waves in inhomogeneous plasmas;
    (2) Collisionless magnetic reconnection;
    (3) Particle acceleration by dispersive Alfven waves;
    (4) Electron acceleration by Langmuir waves;
    (5) Radio emission mechanisms from accelerated electrons;
    (6) Radio data analysis of Type III solar radio bursts from the Chilbolton LOFAR Station;

Survey Astronomy

Group Members: Dr. Will Sutherland.

For general enquiries about a PhD in Survey astronomy please contact Dr. Will Sutherland.

Surveys are the foundation on which much research in observational astrophysics is based. They make possible both statistical studies of large numbers of objects for various astrophysical studies, and finding samples of (rare) objects / phenomena whose properties can then be studied in greater detail. Surveys have relevance in a very broad range of astronomical fields, including the Solar System, stars, the interstellar medium, the structure of our Galaxy, structure and evolution of galaxies in general, large scale structure of the universe, distances through redshift determination, and cosmology including dark matter and dark energy.

The group has a number of active research programmes using multi-wavelength wide-field imaging surveys of large areas at infrared (e.g. VISTA) and optical wavelengths.

VISTA, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy, has been constructed in Chile via a £36-million grant held by Queen Mary which led the VISTA Consortium.There is a strong involvement in VISTA and related surveys.

VISTA's six public surveys (all of which QM is involved in) range from very deep over a small area of sky, to shallow over the whole southern hemisphere, and offer a vast resource for studying stars, the Galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds, galaxies and cosmology.

See also projects in the Cosmology and relativity group.