MSc projects

The projects below are those already proposed specifically for an MSc by Research. However, other projects can be designed and agreed through discussion with staff at the interview stage. Prospective students are encouraged to also look at the PhD project webpages for the types of projects that could be adapted for an MSc and should feel free to contact potential supervisors to discuss options.

Exoplanet mass function for nearby stars

Hugh Jones, Mikko Tuomi

The advent of powerful sub-mm observatories means that dust disks are now being routinely discovered around many nearby stars. The combination of alignment information with large numbers of radial velocity measurements offers the opportunity to construct a sample of nearby stars for which the planetary mass can be precisely determined. Previous determinations of planetary mass by radial velocities suffer from an orbital inclination uncertainty and those from transits rely on a mass-radius relationship. This project thus  represents a direct method to determine the exoplanet mass function based on nearby stars. Much of the project will be concerned with quantifying the activity and geometric biases within the sample of nearby stars considered.

Comparison of Gaia results for resolved binary systems

Hugh Jones, Ricky Smart (Torino)

The candidate will compile a list of known resolved double stars and will extract the Gaia solutions for these objects. They will compare the differences of the astrometric measures of all component combinations with the error estimates. These differences will be a direct check on the error estimates, highlight any magnitude correlations if present and will allow a test of small (<1 arcminute) vs large (>10 arcminute) correlated results. The testing will be carried out in an IDL environment with a sequence of procedures already available for the collection and comparison of datasets.


Bill Martin, Hugh Jones

This project is to build the so-called EXOhSPEC prototype spectrograph (Exoplanet high resolution spectrograph). It will be entirely built from catalogue components but will utilise technologies not deployed in astronomical spectrographs. EXOhSPEC will be tested on the Sun and local stars both in the laboratory, on local automated telescope as well as with telescopes in Thailand. The final version is destined for the Thai National Telescope. It is intended to have the fewest possible optical surfaces for a high resolution spectrograph and its efficiency and small size will make it highly attractive. The key development that we wish to introduce is active metrology of the system which enables us to envisage a small athermal design made from off the shelf parts which is replicable and scalable. The aim of the project is to be able to build a prototype to significantly extend the reach of precision radial velocities to higher precisions and efficiencies.

A comprehensive study of collisions between giant molecular clouds

Jim Dale, Martin Krause

Simulations of spiral galaxies (e.g. Dobbs, Pringle & Duarte-Cabral 2015) suggest that collisions between molecular clouds should be common events, and in fact most clouds experience at least one collision during their lives. Additionally, there is a substantial body of observations claiming that particular star clusters or star-forming regions in the Milky Way are the results of such collisions (e.g. NGC 3603, Fukui et al. 2014, or M20, Torii et al. 2017).

Galactic-scale simulations are unable to resolve star formation, and interest in modelling collisions at the molecular cloud scale has recently revived (e.g. Haworth et al. 2015). However, these papers typically examine only a very small corner of the possible parameter space of such encounters. A comprehensive suite of models is sorely needed.

This project involves running a large number of simulations of collisions between pairs of turbulent model clouds using the Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics code GANDALF (Hubber, Rosotti & Booth 2017). The most important parameters that the simulation suite will explore are the relative velocity of the clouds, the impact parameter, the mass ratio and the initial virial state. In all cases, the ranges of these parameters are already known from observations and/or galactic-scale simulations. This will enable a detailed study of the influence of cloud-cloud encounters on the star formation process within the clouds.

Modeling the radio emission of photoevaporating protoplanetary disks (proplyds)

Jan Forbrich, Martin Krause, Jim Dale

Massive stars have a profound impact on their environment. They irradiate nearby young low-mass stars with intense UV light, which can photoevaporate their protoplanetary disks. Observationally, the first evidence for such a scenario was found in the Orion Nebula Cluster (ONC), the most nearby region with ongoing massive star formation. Radio emission was observed to originate in what turned out to be 'proplyds' - circumstellar disks identified in iconic Hubble Space Telescope images. Newly upgraded radio instrumentation is now providing us with a significantly improved perspective on these objects, where the entire tadpole-like structure of such an irradiated proplyd can now be studied in its thermal radio emission, which is due to bremsstrahlung in ionized gas.

Using existing hydrodynamic code and the best Orion radio observations to date, taken with the NRAO Very Large Array (VLA), we will explore the morphology of proplyd radio emission to constrain physical parameters like the mass loss and dynamic ages of the Orion proplyds.