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PhD research topics

This page lists the available PhD projects to begin in 2020. 

We will be offering multiple positions across most areas of research carried out at the Anton Pannekoek Institute.  Topics and project descriptions (where available) are given below.  Further details and new projects may be added over the next few months, so please check back here in case of any updates.  

If you are interested in working in a particular research area (or project, if listed), please indicate this in your cover letter, but note also that we will consider applicants for a variety of the positions being offered, so it is not obligatory to list specific projects.  Also please note:  all application materials should be submitted via the general application process.  API staff may be contacted with questions about projects, but please do not email unsolicited application materials to API staff. 




Reflected light from exoplanet atmospheres: towards rocky worlds

Supervisor: Jayne Birkby

We seek a motivated and curiosity-driven student with a passion for exploring exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces. This project focuses on the light that exoplanets reflect, and will study them initially using observations from very high resolution spectrographs, such as ESPRESSO/VLT and HARPS. The goal is to measure the planet’s reflection spectrum and use atmospheric modelling to interpret the molecular signatures detected. The program will begin with gas giant exoplanets, and will move towards sub-Saturns and Neptunes. This observational technique is still in its infancy but demonstrating its potential is key to detecting signatures of oxygen in the atmospheres of nearby rocky worlds with the Extremely Large Telescopes coming online in the mid-2020s. The project will begin with observations, but has significant scope to explore theoretical modelling and simulations as well, depending on the interests of the student. The student will become a key member of Dr Birkby’s ‘exoZoo’ team of PhDs and postdocs, supported by a European Research Council Starting Grant. The student will also be encouraged to connect with Dr Jean-Michel Désert’s and Dr Antonija Oklopčić’s respective groups in exoplanet research and explore the wider research activities in planet formation at the API too. The API offers a highly stimulating environment for exoplanet atmosphere research, with many opportunities to explore new avenues towards the characterizing of rocky worlds beyond our Solar system.


Exoplanet atmospheres in the JWST era

Supervisor: Jean-Michel Desert

Exoplanet atmospheres allows us to learn about their composition and their overall physical properties. The main motivation of the proposed research is to answer fundamental questions about exoplanets : What is the nature, formation and evolution of the observed planetary systems? How can exoplanetology explain the origin and characteristics of our Solar System and the Earth?

To address these questions, the successful PhD candidate will develop observing programs, data analysis tools, and atmospheric models in order to study exoplanet atmospheres. This project will be supported by a portfolio of observational programs, centered around JWST, which will be used to determine the atmospheric composition, structure, dynamics, and weather patterns of exoplanets. The PhD candidate will use these new types of observations and techniques to map how planetary atmospheres respond to stellar irradiation and test fundamental predictions of atmospheric models. Ultimately, the aim of this project is to leverage exoplanet detections, as well as observational capabilities and theoretical frameworks, to deepen our understanding of (exo)planetary physics. 

We are looking for a motivated candidate with an interest in a PhD project that comprises observational and modeling expertise. The successful candidate will work within an international research collaboration. The PhD candidate will be part of a vibrant group on exoplanets and planet formation at the University of Amsterdam.



The Apertif Radio -- Graviational wave Observatory (ARGO)

Supervisor: Joeri van Leeuwen

We can now fathom our Universe through the swell of its very fabric of  space-time: gravitational waves. Mergers of neutron stars whip up these waves, but also produce relativistic mass ejections and radio emission. Our overall goal is to understand the physics governing the interior and magnetosphere of these stars, and their spiral-in. In this PhD project we aim to discover and interpret the accompanying electromagnetic emission. We will use the novel, wide-field Apertif detectors we have recently commissioned to discover and study afterglow and prompt FRB-like radio emission from gravitational-wave events. Through precise localizations, essential for our radio, optical and high-energy follow-up, we aim to shed light on the astrophysics driving these exotic events.


Joint gravitational wave and radio characterization of GW transients

Supervisor: Philipp Mösta and Samaya Nissanke

Description to follow


Atmospheric escape in exoplanets

Supervisor: Antonija Oklopčić

A significant fraction of exoplanets discovered to date orbit their host stars at much closer separations than any of the Solar System planets. These close-in exoplanets are subject to intense stellar radiation, which can have dramatic effects on their atmospheres. Upper layers of a planetary atmosphere can get heated to temperatures of several thousand degrees, creating pressure gradients that drive a supersonic outflow and allow a significant fraction of the atmosphere to escape from the planet. Atmospheric escape and mass loss can have profound influence on the extent, composition, and evolution of close-in exoplanets, and consequently, on the demographics of planetary systems.

The PhD candidate will work on theoretical modeling and/or spectroscopic observations of exoplanet atmospheres with the goal of advancing our understanding of atmospheric mass loss. The theoretically-oriented part of the project will include developing and analyzing 3D magnetohydrodynamic simulations of escaping atmospheres and investigating the roles that planetary magnetic fields, stellar radiation, and stellar wind play in this process. A more observationally-focused project will involve analyzing and interpreting spectroscopic data obtained with high-resolution spectrographs on large ground-based telescopes.


Searching for Explosive Radio Transients with LOFAR

Supervisor: Antonia Rowlinson and Ralph Wijers

Over the past few years, radio transients at low radio frequencies have been proving elusive to find and yet we have tantilising hints that they are out there. Discoveries include a transient of unknown origin that was approximately 6 minutes long in archival data from LOFAR, unusual transients of a few tens of seconds duration by LOFAR and the LWA and exceptionally bright giant pulses from a pulsar. These transients are signposts to the most extreme physical environments and emission mechanisms in the Universe.

This project will use LoTSS, the LOFAR Two-metre Sky Survey, to conduct the deepest transient hunt to date at low radio frequencies, on timescales of ~10 seconds to 1 hour, and be the first blind multi-polarisation search at these frequencies. We aim to detect transient sources, using the LOFAR Transients Pipeline and machine learning algorithms, on the boundary between coherent and incoherent emission mechanisms and explore their likely extreme physical emission processes. 


Ultradense matter in neutron stars (funding TBC)

Supervisor: Anna Watts

Matter in neutron star cores can reach up to 10 times normal nuclear densities, which may allow the formation of stable states of strange matter. We are studying this using a new technique called Pulse Profile Modeling, which is currently being pioneered by the NICER X-ray telescope on the International Space Station.  If applications for funding are successful there will be several projects to develop and exploit this technique both for NICER and for future large-area X-ray telescopes. The projects span dense matter, statistical inference, astrophysical theory, and observational data analysis.