MSc Astrophysics Projects


The research project is a major component of the Astrophysics MSc in the final year. It is a fantastic opportunity to acquire valuable research skills and carry out high level astrophysical work, supervised by a member of academic staff.

The project gives students scope to work independently and critically on the topic of interest to them. It may be a theoretical topic, or it may involve computational work, or analysis of observational work by others. In all cases the emphasis should be on the astrophysics within the field chosen. The relevance of the work in the wider context of the subject should be explained as part of the introductory section. The project will normally require the study of original papers, show evidence of critical assessment and include a substantial component of independent work. It is not expected to include original research by the student, but it will be regarded favourably if it does. The report should be around 15,000 words. In assessing the project, the examiners will pay particular attention to clarity of presentation, evidence that the student has worked critically and independently, and the adequacy of references to original papers. Students must choose a topic and find a supervisor by the beginning of January.

The award of an MSc is based on the end-of-year examinations and the project. The project is an important component of the MSc, corresponding to 4 modules, and you should devote substantial effort to it during the year. The examinations and the project must both be passed for the award of the MSc. Distinction can only be attained in the MSc if the project is at the required level.

The MSc Programme Director provides a 'Project Guidelines' booklet each year which includes more detailed  information on the requiremnts and some projects suggested by the available supervisors, although students are encouraged to propose their own topics.

Students are expected to use the LaTeX system to prepare their project dissertation. Several introductions to LaTeX are available on the web, including Getting Started with LaTeX , by D.R. Wilkin, and LaTeX for Complete Novices by N.L.C. Talbot.T

Example projects

As a guideline, previous years' projects have included the following examples. Students will often be able to tailor the details of their project based on their interests and the direction of their research.

Detection of rocky planets around nearby stars

After 15 years of discoveries, current techniques allow us to detect the elusive signals of very small planets. The two leading detection techniques are Doppler spectroscopy and transit photometry. Both techniques are especially sensitive to small planets in close-in orbits (periods shorter than a few days). In particular, we can now detect Earth-mass/size planets in that domain. In this project we will work with archival and new space-based photometric data (Kepler/NASA and COROT/ESA) and ground-based Doppler measurements (HARPS) to attempt detection of such small planets around our nearest stellar neighbours and some bright Kepler mission systems. To do this, we will use advanced data-analysis methods such as Bayesian inference and models including correlated noise.

Primordial Black Holes (PBHs)

PBHs are considered as a unique and powerful tool to probe the Very Early Universe. Students will write a review including the following topics: the range of PBH’s masses, different mechanisms of PBH’s formation, amplification of their fractional density in radiation dominated expansion of the Early Universe, Hawking radiation, observational constraints based on cosmological nucleosynthesis, gamma-ray background and gamma-ray bursts. Possible research components may include any combination of the following topics: hydrodynamics of PBH’s formation, the problem of initial conditions, critical collapse, the problem of shock formation, probability of PBH’s formation, constraints on physical conditions in the very Early Universe. A student can write a new computer code for illustration of already known results and even for obtaining some new results.

Exploring the population of quasars and red compact galaxies.

Study of multicolour diagrams from infrared sky surveys including VISTA and WISE shows a significant population of point sources deviating from the locus of normal stars. Many of these are likely quasars, and some may also be compact red galaxies. The project will investigate these populations in more detail, and will involve significant database matching aspects including SQL and TopCat.

Models of the solar interior: problems and perspectives

The model of the solar internal structure, based on the standard assumptions of the stellar-evolution theory (often referred to as a standard solar model) revealed an almost adequate agreement with observational data over decades. The situation has changed dramatically when the revised spectroscopic measurements of solar metallicity brought the model into a drastic conflict with helioseismic measurements. A comprehensive overview of the problem is expected in this project, with critical analysis of possible suggested solutions.