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PhD research topics

This page lists the currently available PhD projects to begin in 2022. We expect more projects to become available in the coming weeks and months. Please check back regularly.

Applications needed to be submitted on or before 14 November 2021. By early January we will invite promising candidates for a presentation and interviews to be held on 14 and 15 February 2022. 

API staff may be contacted with questions about projects, but please do not email unsolicited application materials to API staff. More information about the recruitment process can be found here


Signatures of planets in the terrestrial planet formation regions of disks

[>>>Funding pending -- will know more in December<<<]

Supervisor: Dr. Carsten Dominik

Over the past decade, detailed images of disks around young stars have revolutionized our understanding of how planets form. Instruments like ALMA and SPHERE have revealed a wealth of structures in the outer disk region, like gaps, rings, arcs, and spiral arms. Theoretical model simulations indicate a close connection with past, ongoing, and future planet formation: planets can open gaps, trap dust in rings, and trigger spiral waves; accretion across gaps can feed growing planets; and the matter accumulation inside rings can foster the birth of planetary. Predicted kinematic signatures of embedded planets are being discovered in several disks. This impressive progress stands in stark contrast with the lack of information on the formation of rocky planets in the future Habitable Zone (<a few au) and the impact on this process of disk-sculpting by giant planets at 10s-100s of au. We propose to investigate planet formation in the inner few au of disks through a joint program of observations and simulations. The theoretical part of our proposal (which is the project we advertise here) translates our understanding of how planet formation shapes the cold outer disk, to the warmer and denser conditions of the rocky-planet formation zone. A companion PhD project running at Leiden University focuses on getting the unique interferometric observations using the new MATISSE interferometer at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer.


Inferring Black Hole and Neutron Star Properties with New Statistical and Machine Learning Methods

Supervisor: Dr. Daniela Huppenkothen

Black holes and neutron stars are at the heart of many open questions in both astrophysics and fundamental physics, for example in the study of strong gravity and the dense matter equation of state. Many of these sources, especially those that accrete matter from a companion star, exhibit a rich phenomenology of outbursts and of both spectral and temporal variations within those outbursts. The advent of modern X-ray telescopes like NuSTAR, NICER and—in the next few years—XRISM, eXTP and Athena, as well as the development of sophisticated numerical models, mean that we can ask ever more complex physical questions to be answered with these data sets and models. At the same time, our statistical methods have not kept pace, and the use of machine learning is still very rare in this field. 

The purpose of this project is to build state-of-the-art new statistical and machine learning methods to take full advantage of modern spectral-timing data sets. We will use simulation-based inference and neural networks to mitigate detector effects, and use these methods to help answer fundamental questions about black holes and neutron stars. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the project, I welcome applications from candidates with any background relevant to the project, in any one of astronomy, physics, statistical modeling (regardless of field) or machine learning. Previous interdisciplinary experience in more than one of the above is not required and there will be ample learning opportunities across scientific disciplines as part of this project. This position is funded at the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and will be a joint project. 



Triple evolution towards transients

Supervisor: Dr. Silvia Toonen

Stellar mergers give rise to some of the most energetic events known in the universe; ranging from gravitational wave sources to electromagnetic transients (such as supernova type Ia and luminous red novae). Upcoming surveys such as aLIGO/Virgo and LSST will open unprecedented windows to these events, and directly provide information on their properties. However, the progenitors and their formation are often shrouded in mystery. In the past most of our efforts focused on modelling binary evolution, however, in the last few years our work demonstrated that a so far poorly explored part of the physics is very important; interaction of the binary with a third star. Our lack of a theoretical understanding of stellar triples leaves a major void in astronomy, and therefore a major opportunity! The aim of this project is to explore the evolution of triple systems, compute their properties and event rates using a computational approach, and finally set it against the results from gravitational wave and electromagnetic surveys to unravel the mysterious progenitors of stellar mergers.

To get a feeling about the kind of research you will be doing, here are a couple of papers by Dr. Toonen relevant to this project: