Examples of PhD projects available
There will be several PhD positions open for application
with a deadline of December 1, 2019. For details of the application procedure see this page. The positions are available in all the research areas in which the Observatory is active.
This page will give a broad overview of possible research projects . However, research in different areas is possible and not all projects that might be offered are listed. The faculty research interests
provides more background information.
- Two positions on "compressed" remote sensing of air pollution
Supervisor: Frans Snik
In our Astronomical Instrumentation group (LEOPARD) we develop advanced optical instrumentation to directly observe exoplanets and characterize their atmospheres through spectroscopy and polarimetry. We actively pursue spin-offs from this technology to measure anthropogenic constituents of our own atmosphere. As part of the SYNOPTICS consortium of Dutch academic institutes and industry, we currently have two vacancies to develop innovative optical instruments to measure air pollution, both trace gases and particulate matter. In both cases we apply innovative optical techniques that make the instrument smaller by orders of magnitude by implementing a "compressed" detection approach. A successful candidate will cover all aspects of the instrument development, in close collaboration with a nearby high-tech company: Requirements definition, conceptual design, end-to-end simulation, prototyping, calibration, development of data analysis and error analysis pipeline, and scientific validation in the field. The final goal for both projects is to fly our novel technology on an Earth-observation satellite. We will also study other applications, including astronomical ones.
- High resolution studies of planet-forming disks
Supervisors: Ewine van Dishoeck, Michiel Hogerheijde, Carsten Dominik (UvA)
The statistics of exoplanet detections imply that essentially every
disk around a young star must be forming planets. The gas and dust
structures in these disks dictate to a large degree what kind of
planets can be formed. In this project, new and archival ALMA and
VLT-Sphere data will be used to constrain surface density structures
of disks around low- and intermediate mass stars, and compare
similarities and differences with implications for planet formation.
- Using astrochemistry to study the ISM in Galaxies
Supervisor: Serena Viti
Dense, cool gas in galaxies is key for our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve, as this gas is the reservoir of matter that forms stars and planets, as well as the gas that fuels the centres of galaxies. The best way to trace this gas is by the measurement of line emission from molecules. In order to draw the real potential of molecules out, however, accurate estimates of their abundances, as a function of all the parameters that influence their chemistry in extragalactic environments, must be obtained.
This fully-funded 4 years PhD project will focus on the improvement of state-of-the-art models, followed by the computation of chemical abundances for different types of galaxies. The key questions that this project aims to tackle are:
1) what are the key molecular transitions that can unambiguously trace the physical and energetic processes in active galaxies? 2) Can we devise a robust framework that can guide and assist astrochemists in the interpretation of molecules in nearby and distant galaxies?
This project is particularly suitable for candidates with a background and/or strong interest in computational astrophysics and data intensive science.
- Characterizing the dense interstellar medium in nearby galaxies
Supervisor: Serena Viti
The dramatic increase in sensitivity and frequency coverage in millimetre instruments in the last decade has made it possible for the first time to study the chemical complexity of the interstellar medium (ISM) in galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Thanks to ALMA, molecular diagnostics are now a powerful new tool to study the ISM of galaxies.
The proposed fully funded 4-years project will make use of existing and forthcoming ALMA data, coupled with our in-house modelling tools, to perform a comprehensive study of the dense gas in two active galaxies, NGC 1068 and NGC 253, with the aim of determining the structure and location of the multi-component ISM in both composite and starburst galaxies. The key questions that this project aims to tackle are: 1) how can we best trace and study the dense gas forming stars in galaxies? 2) Can we determine the physics and energetics of active galaxies using as 'laboratories' the archetypical galaxies NGC 1068 and NGC 253?
- The formation of galaxies and the evolution of the intergalactic medium
Supervisor: Joop Schaye
The group led by Joop Schaye has an opening for a PhD student to work on simulations of the formation of galaxies and/or the evolution of the intracluster and intergalactic medium. Possible projects include the development and analysis of new simulations, varying from large volumes for observational cosmology to high-resolution models of small volumes. Comparisons with observations are foreseen. The PhD student will become part of an international team.
Unravelling the physics of particle acceleration and magnetic fields in distant galaxy clusters.
Supervisor: Reinout van Weeren
Galaxy clusters form by violent mergers with other galaxy clusters and groups. Radio observations of clusters have revealed the existence of large megaparsec-size, diffuse synchrotron emitting sources. The synchrotron radiation implies the existence of cosmic rays and magnetic fields. With their enormous extent, these radio sources trace the largest particle accelerators in the Universe. The LOFAR group of Dr. Reinout van Weeren and Prof. Huub Röttgering has a PhD project to work on shocks, turbulence, and magnetic fields in distant clusters. LOFAR is the worl's most powerful low-frequency telescope and ideally suited to study merging galaxy clusters. Making use of high resolution subarcsec LOFAR imaging, the applicant will study massive distant clusters in large areas surveys and the more common less massive clusters in ultra-deep surveys. The work will involve the data reduction, analysis, interpretation, and publication of the LOFAR observations. An additional aim is to obtain and analyze higher frequency radio observations from other radio telescopes (VLA, GMRT) through competitive open-time proposals.
Radio-mode feedback and AGN fossil plasma in galaxy clusters.
Supervisor: Reinout van Weeren
Radio mode feedback in galaxy clusters is a crucial mechanism to provide energy to the intracluster medium. This feedback prevents the intracluster medium from a runaway cooling catastrophe. AGN radio lobes, associated with the supermassive blackhole from the central brightest cluster galaxy, have been identified as the main source of energy. The LOFAR group of Dr. Reinout van Weeren and Prof. Huub Röttgering has a PhD project to work on radio-mode feedback using LOFAR. The project will carry out a search for ultra-steep spectrum fossil radio plasma from past episodes of AGN activity. With LOFAR's international stations, for the first time, central cluster galaxies galaxies will be imaged at subarcsecond resolution below 100 MHz. The work will involve data reduction, analysis, modeling, interpretation, and publication of the results. Follow-up observations will be requested through competitive open-time proposals.
The link between exoplanet's interiors and atmospheres
Supervisor: Yamila Miguel
With the upcoming generation of dedicated space missions and ground based instrumentation specifically dedicated to study exoplanets, we are entering in an era of exoplanet characterisation. Atmospheric spectroscopic analysis, provides abundances of different chemical species in exoplanet atmospheres, providing constrains to start understanding exoplanet interiors.
The aim of this PhD project is to understand the link between exoplanet atmospheres and their interiors using current atmospheric observations to constrain interior parameters and perform interior structure models of exoplanets, towards a better understanding of giant exoplanets nature.
- Developing novel instrumentation to probe exoplanet atmospheres
Supervisors: Christoph Keller & Ignas Snellen
The field of extrasolar planets has a great future ahead. Within our lifetime, we should be able to start probing our nearest neighbours for biological activity. One exciting observational technique is the combination of high-contrast imaging coronagraphy with high-dispersion spectroscopy - in particular for the future Extremely Large Telescope. This PhD project will focus on the further development of this new technology, from laboratory test beds to on-sky performances and initial exoplanet science. We are looking for a candidate with a strong affinity for astronomical instrumentation and extrasolar planets.
- The solid composition of early-forming planetary embryos
Supervisor: Melissa McClure
Ices (volatiles) and organic solids provide crucial ingredients for life to planets during their formation in protoplanetary disks around newborn stars. Evidence is accumulating that shows that planetary embryos form early, already when these disks are still embedded in envelopes connected with their natal molecular clouds. To determine how likely it is for typical exoplanets to support life, we need to study how organic-rich, icy dust forms in dense molecular clouds and is processed into larger solids within the disk during the first 10^4-10^5 years of its life. Dr. Melissa McClure is leading an Early Release Science program on the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, "Ice Age", that is dedicated to the detection of simple ices and complex organic molecules in molecular clouds, protostars, and protoplanetary disks. The aim of this PhD is to combine these ice observations with new tracers of solid growth in young, embedded disks to predict how much bulk volatile material is incorporated into forming planetary embryos at young ages. The student will become a member of a 50+ person international team, learn how to propose for, reduce, and analyze data from cutting edge facilities, and model the solid composition at various stages during the planet formation timeline.
- Using machine learning to image the low frequency universe at the highest resolution.br>
Supervisors: Huub Rottgering, Reinout van Weeren, Raymond Oonk,
The international LOFAR telescope is a revolutionary radio telescope that spans the European continent. Its tremendous size enables Hubble Space Telescope resolution imaging of radio sources, at meter wavelengths, for the first time. Achieving this resolution is crucial for identifying the location and impact of radio-loud black holes and highly obscured sites of star formation in galaxies. Leiden Observatory leads the LOFAR Surveys Key Science Project (SKSP; lofar-surveys.org) and is a partner in the CORTEX (Center for Optimal, Real-Time Machine Studies of the Explosive Universe) project. The successful candidate will work with the Leiden SKSP group and CORTEX to develop, machine learning assisted, data-driven pipelines for wide-field, high-resolution imaging with LOFAR and use the results for advancing our understanding of radio loud AGN.
- One position in Theoretical Astrophysics
Supervisor: Elena Maria Rossi
There are two possibilities for this project:
1) The Milky Way its the Local Group is an extraordinary laboratory to
understand galaxy formation and the nature of dark matter, with a wealth
of data not accessible in other galaxies. The student will develop and
apply to Gaia data a novel combining probe approach that will constrain
the Galactic Mass distribution with an unprecedented robustness.
Notably, the use of Hypervelocity stars (stars that originate from the
centre of our Galaxy) as mass tracers will allow a simultaneous study of
the environment of our supermassive black hole
2)Gravitational Waves is the new window in astronomy. This project will
exploit it to answer the outstanding question of how super massive black
holes were formed and how they grew into the massive objects we detect
today at the centre of galaxies
Prieneke van Hoeve fellowship
This prestigious fellowship is for excellent students with an ambitious
PhD research plan. A good candidate will have a proven track record of
highly successful research project(s) at the master level. The
application will provide a 1-page research project that (i) formulates
the big questions in the field that he/she would be working in, and (ii)
gives a sketch of a work plan detailing which aspects of these questions
would be addressed and how. The development of such a plan can be done
in close collaboration with a prospective supervisor, but this is not