Undergraduate Research Programme

The projects below are for the 2023 summer programme and are provided for information only. This programme will not run in summer 2024 but will resume in 2025.

The Undergraduate Research Programme offers undergraduate students an invaluable opportunity to take part in cutting-edge research being undertaken within the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics. These projects are designed to give undergraduate students a taste of what working in frontier research is like and often contribute to journal publications. We are particularly interested in applications from undergraduates who are interested in applying for PhD entry (either at Hertfordshire or elsewhere) in 2024. Postgraduate students who fit this description are also welcome to apply.

Students who are interested in working on a project should email the project supervisor as early as possible (and by the middle of April at the very latest) and copy in the coordinator Sugata Kaviraj (s.kaviraj@herts.ac.uk). In their email, students should include a short statement (one or two paragraphs) explaining why they are interested in the project and attach a short CV. They are welcome to express interest in multiple projects (although they will typically work on only one project over the summer period). Projects are expected to run in June and July this year. 

Supervisors will then set up an informal chat to discuss details of the projects with prospective students, after which both supervisors and students will be expected to make their selections. Some limited funding may be available to eligible students and students will be advised about the details after they apply.

Climate extremes in coupled climate models

Understanding and predicting climate extremes (heat wave, flood, drought, hurricanes, wildfires etc.) as well as the related anomalous statistics is a grand challenge in complex natural systems. The aim of this project will be to develop and investigate the skill of Climate modelling/Machine Learning (ML) strategies in the prediction of extreme events in complex turbulent dynamical systems. Climate modelling/ML approaches have been successfully applied to many problems involving big data and have shown potential for the study of dynamical systems. The candidate will apply these methods and compare results with observed data to investigate how Climate modelling/ML can provide added value in climate prediction.

Dates: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: Raj Tiwari, p.r.tiwari@herts.ac.uk, room 1E112B

The SIMPLE Database

The SIMPLE database is a collection of all types of astronomical data for ultracool dwarfs (UCDs). UCDs consist of the lowest mass stars and brown dwarfs, which are the objects between stars and planets. The student on this project will join an international, open-source collaboration developing this database by inserting data from recent scientific papers into the database via Python and GitHub. The community will be able to use the information from this database to further push forward the active research field of UCDs. There will also be an opportunity to learn web development skills through python, flask, css, javascript and html.

Dates: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: Will Cooper (w.cooper@herts.ac.uk), room 1E72 and Ben Burningham (b.burningham@herts.ac.uk), room 1E70.

Searching for record breaking brown dwarfs in VISTA and DES

VISTA is a near-infrared survey of the southern sky, and when combined with the very deep optical survey DES (the Dark Energy Survey) it is possible to find large numbers of ultracool brown dwarfs with spectral types of L (Temp = 1400 – 2500 Kelvin), T (500 – 1400 K), and possibly even Y (Temp < 500 K). In this project you will investigate a set of candidate brown dwarfs from a VISTA/DES search, and look more closely at near infrared, optical, and mid-infrared images - to confirm which candidates are genuine. You will also measure their proper motion (angular velocity in arcseconds per year) using multiple images available in the surveys. The goal is to discover new brown dwarfs with record breaking properties - high proper motion, and low temperature.

Dates: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: David Pinfield (D.J.Pinfield@herts.ac.uk), room 1E66.

Etalon calibration tests

A Fabry-Perot etalon has recently been constructed and provides regular calibration features for the high-resolution spectrograph known as EXOhSPEC (EXOplanet high resolution SPECtrograph) based at the University of Hertfordshire. This project is to calibrate the utility of Fabry-Perot Etalon relative to existing ThAr and UrNe sources which are currently used to provide simultaneous calibration to the spectrograph. In particular, the change in line positions for the etalon needs to be quantified with temperature, pressure and humidity.

Dates: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: Hugh Jones (h.r.a.jones@herts.ac.uk) and Bill Martin (w.e.martin@herts.ac.uk)

Mode Control for Closed Loop Reduction of Modal Noise

Modal noise is one of the primary experimental issues in the measurement of high precision radial velocities. The project is to systematically experiment with an adaptive optics system that can provide modification to the coupling profile. The output of the project will be a report assessing the current potential of an adaptive optics system to reduce the amplitude and phase impact of modal noise in telescope to fibre coupling.

Dates: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: Hugh Jones (h.r.a.jones@herts.ac.uk) and Bill Martin (w.e.martin@herts.ac.uk)

Multiplexed USB CMOS camera control under Python

CMOS cameras are commonly used in astronomical and lab-based imaging, e.g. at Bayfordbury and in the physics labs. Camera units are connected to a PC hosting control software via a USB cable. A camera maker widely adopted by UH is ZWO, which provides software that controls one camera at a time. Micro-Manager is a third-party software product that allows multiplexing of cameras, but multiple ZWO cameras do not operate well under Micro-Manager; Micro-Manager can see but cannot distinguish operationally between different USB camera units of the same type.

The aim of this summer project is to write bespoke Python code to operate first two, then four, ZWO USB-linked CMOS cameras from a single software interface under Windows, so that all operate with the same cooling, binning, gain and exposure settings, with exposure sequences starting simultaneously (within 0.1 sec), and with the resulting image sequence saved into a single directory with identifiable, logical filenames. In the first instance, the software can be driven via line commands, but if time and programming experience permits, a GUI would be the preferred mode of operation.

The student taking on this challenge must have experience of and enjoy the challenge of programming in Python, and must have experience handling data from 2D imaging detectors (CCD or CMOS). Ideally, they may also have experience of writing hardware-control software and of writing GUIs. They may use all online resources at their disposal including ZWO software manuals and ChatGPT.

Duration: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: Sean Ryan (s.g.ryan@herts.ac.uk)

Dusty distant galaxies as revealed by the James Webb Space Telescope

New imaging from the JWST is revealing new insights into the rest-frame optical morphologies of galaxies in the early Universe. In this project you will combine very deep sub-mm imaging of the AEGIS extragalactic field that has publicly available JWST NIRCam imagery as well as a plethora of publicly available ancillary multiwavelength data. You will be one of the first to explore the rest-frame optical morphologies of galaxies hosting massive dusty starbursts close to the peak epoch of galaxy evolution, which will help improve our understanding of this cosmologically important population of galaxies.

The project will involve first taking the existing submillimetre maps at 850 and 450um of the AEGIS field and writing a source/peak finder to first locate the SMGs and make a basic catalogue. You will then proceed to perform the counterpart matching to existing catalogues using more precise radio or IR positions and match the SMG positions to the JWST images to extract photometry and to analyse and measure the galaxy stellar morphologies.

Photometric redshifts can be sought using the 850/450 colours or by using a simple photometric-redshift SED fitting code of the student’s choice (EAZY, MAGPHYS or CIGALE).

This project will require the student to independently research the subject, install and learn to use the SED fitting package, and develop some new and original scientific results. This project will involve data analysis, including the student downloading and learning independently how to run one of the state-of-the-art python-based SED fitting codes above (as well as extracting photometry from existing catalogues), as well making plots and extracting faint flux and making morphology measurements from images. This project will require a student with a good foundation and interest in data analysis and good programming skills in Linux/Python will be required, as is a keen interest on key concepts in galaxy formation and evolution.

Duration: 4-8 weeks (flexible)

Supervisor details: Prof Kristen Coppin (k.coppin@herts.ac.uk), room 1E55