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Astronomy, Astrophysics & Astrophotonics


PhD projects at MQ AAAstro

Projects/Scholarships currently available Supervisor

PhD Projects Available

Planetary Nebulae: windows into the soul of late stage stellar evolution
Prof. Quentin Parker

PNe derive from stars in the range ~1-8 times the mass of the Sun, representing 90% of all stars more massive than the sun. The study of PNe is crucial to understand both late stage stellar evolution, and the chemical evolution of our entire Galaxy. The ionised shell exhibits strong and numerous emission lines that are excellent laboratories for plasma physics. PNe are also visible to great distances where their strong lines permit determination of the size, expansion velocity and age of the PN, so probing the physics and timescales of stellar mass loss. We can also use them to derive luminosity, temperature and mass of their central stars, and the chemical composition of the ejected gas. Their radial velocities can trace a galaxy’s kinematic properties and test whether the galaxy contains a substantial amount of dark matter. The kinematic properties of PNe in galaxy halos also give strong constraints both on the mass distributions and formation processes of giant elliptical galaxies. The PN formation rate also gives the death rate of lower mass stars born billions of years ago and they directly probe Galactic stellar and chemical evolution. Their complex shapes provide clues to their formation, evolution, mass-loss processes, and the shaping role that may be played by magnetic fields, binary central stars or even massive planets. As the central star fades to a WD and the nebula expands, the integrated flux, surface brightness and radius change in ways that can be predicted by current hydrodynamic theory.

PNe are thus powerful astrophysical tools, providing a unique window into the soul of late stage stellar evolution.

At MQ we have built one of the strongest research teams in the world that study the fascinating PNe phenemona. We have amassed the most comprehensive, multi-wavelength photometric and spectroscopic PNe database using all known objects and our own significant discoveries with which to study PNe. This forms the basis of much of our productive research. A variety of interesting projects are available under the supervision of Prof. Quentin Parker and other members of the MQ PNe team.

For further information, please contact Quentin Parker.

Galactic Archaeology
A/Prof. Dan Zucker

The field of Galactic Archaeology - the detailed study of stars in our Galaxy and its nearest neighbours in order to uncover clues to their formation and evolution - is entering a new era with the commissioning of the revolutionary new HERMES spectrograph. HERMES, being built for the Anglo-Australian Telescope, will obtain detailed elemental abundances and precision radial velocities for over a million stars in the Milky Way in the GALAH (GALactic Archaeology with HERMES) survey. GALAH and other projects now underway or starting soon (e.g., the ESA space mission Gaia) will open new frontiers in our understanding of the formation and evolution of the Galaxy. In this research area, you will have the opportunity to work with Dr. Daniel Zucker and the HERMES Super Science Fellows at Macquarie University, as well as with other members of the GALAH team and collaborators at universities and institutes in Australia and around the world.

For further information, please contact Dan Zucker.

Satellites and Stellar Streams in the Local Group
A/Prof. Dan Zucker

Galaxies like our Milky Way form by accreting smaller systems, and this process of galaxy cannibalism continues to the present day: the dwarf satellites orbiting the Galaxy and M31, its nearest large neighbour, are survivors, while the victims are stretched across the sky in stellar streams. These satellites and streams, many of them revealed by wide-area astronomical surveys like SDSS (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and PAndAS (the Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey), probe the conditions of galaxy formation in the early Universe and the behaviour of Dark Matter on the smallest scales. In this research area you will have the opportunity to work with Dr. Daniel Zucker at Macquarie University, as well as with collaborators at other universities in Australia and overseas.

For further information, please contact Dan Zucker.

Stellar Collisions
A/Prof. Orsola De Marco

When stars interact with one another, or with their planetary systems, the course of their evolution is invariably altered and new star species form. Using a suite of hydrodynamic computer simulations we are in the process of studying such interactions. In collaboration with several international institutes we also study the light signal from stellar interactions and mergers so as to model observations from future wide scale, time dependent surveys.

For further information, please contact Orsola De Marco.

Joint PhD Projects with National Observatories

Discovering the Unexpected in Large Deep Radio Surveys
Dr. Ray Norris

The Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) survey is one of the two key science survey projects which is driving the construction of the $65m Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope. EMU will be the largest radio continuum survey error, and is expected to discover some 70 million galaxies, increasing the number of known radio sources by a factor of 30. We expect it to answer many key questions about the origin and evolution of galaxies over cosmic time. We also expect to stumble across unexpected new phenomena, which we seem to find whenever we observe the Universe in innovative ways. Pulsars, quasars, and dark energy were all discovered unexpectedly as the result of such surveys. But we face the challenge that the data volumes from EMU will be so large that it will be difficult to find these discoveries. This PhD project aims to develop techniques for discovering the unexpected by mining large datasets of radio sources, rejecting known classes of source, and instrumental artifacts, to identify the nuggets of new information. While focussed on delivering discoveries from EMU the project will use existing radio surveys to develop the techniques, with the possibility of perhaps finding something unexpected before we even start EMU!

Please contact Ray Norris for enquiries.

Aboriginal Astronomy
Dr. Ray Norris

We invite students that wish to pursue a PhD in Aboriginal Astronomy to apply for an MQRES Scholarship. Students will be centred within the Department of Indigenous Studies and have an official affiliation with AAAstro.

Please contact Ray Norris for enquiries. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are encouraged to apply for all positions.

Outer kinematics and chemistry of nearby galaxies
Dr. Caroline Foster

The outskirts of galaxies retain signs of galaxy assembly that can last for billions of years and are otherwise invisible in the galaxy centres. Recent literature have shown that several galaxies exhibit interesting and dramatic kinematic transitions beyond the usually probed inner regions. This transition to a kinematically distinct halo is predicted theoretically although it has only recently been confirmed observationally. How common this feature is, its possible association with stellar population transitions or as a function of Hubble types remain to be explored using a sizeable samples.

Using world-class optical telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, the "SLUGGS" (near infrared) and "Dragons" (visible) projects are obtaining large scale reconstructed kinematic and chemical abundance maps for a sizeable sample of nearby galaxies. These two surveys are highly complementary, covering different spectral wavelengths and galaxy types, thereby enabling a deeper understanding of systematics.

This project offers the possibility of early involvement in the new Dragons survey, the use of data from world-class observatories and of a recently developed data reduction technique to push the galactocentric boundary. The selected student will acquire invaluable spectral and kinematical analysis skills that are easily portable to popular IFU studies. The Dragons survey is an international collaboration between scientists in Australia, Canada, Chile, USA and The Netherlands, hereby offering a connection to further worldwide opportunities.

Please contact Caroline Foster for enquiries.

2D spectroscopic analysis of local dwarf star-forming galaxies
Dr. Ángel López-Sánchez

The new observational technique of 2D spectroscopy using Integrated Field Units (IFU) is providing amazing new results about the kinematics and the chemical composition of galaxies. In particular, Blue Compact Dwarf Galaxies (BCDG) are excellent targets to perform such studies, because their modest sizes allow that all the galaxy can be observed in just some few pointings. During the last years we have collected some 2D spectroscopy data of a sample of BCDG using both the WiFeS instrument available at the 2.3m ANU telescope at Siding Spring Observatory and the SPIRAL instrument available at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope, also at Siding Spring Observatory. The preliminary analysis of these data are quite promising. We are offering the opportunity of study a sample of several BCDG for which we already have good-quality data, as well as continue our observations of BCDG at these (WiFeS at 2.3m ANU and new instrument KOALA at 3.9m AAT) or other optical telescopes (GEMINI, VLT, WHT, CAHA). In particular, this project will give the student a detailed understanding of the 2D spectroscopy techniques. The student will then gain expertise in the reduction and analysis of this kind of data. The aims of this project are to perform a detailed analysis of the physical (mass, star-formation rate, extinction, electron temperature and density, excitation), chemical (ionic and total abundances of helium, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, neon, argon...) and kinematical (rotation of the galaxy, distortions due to interactions, existence of outflows or inflows of gas) properties of the ionized gas within these galaxies. The analysis of the stellar component underlying the strong starbursts can be also studies. Hence, we will compare the properties of the stars and the ionized gas with the properties of the neutral gas (derived using our own ATCA observations). Finally, the student will also learn to write up the results not only for his/her Thesis but for subsequent publications. As an example of this project, please consult the 2D spectroscopical analysis of the brightest star-forming region of the local BCDG IC 10, López-Sánchez et al. (2011), this research image, and the combined optical-radio study of the BCDG NGC 5253, López-Sánchez et al. (2012).

Please contact Ángel López-Sánchez for enquiries.

Supernovae and Star Formation in Luminous Infrared Galaxies
Dr. Stuart Ryder

Stars bigger than 8 times the mass of our Sun are doomed to end their lives in colossal explosions we experience as "supernovae". Measuring the rate at which stars explode today is the key to unlocking the star formation history of our Universe, on which so much of cosmology rests. Despite the dedicated efforts of amateur astronomers and robotic surveys, we know we are missing a substantial fraction of supernovae still.

If you wanted to increase your odds of discovering a supernova, where better to look than the so-called Luminous (or even Ultra-Luminous) Infrared Galaxies ("LIRGs") where short-lived, massive stars are being formed more rapidly than anywhere else in the Universe? The trouble is LIRGs are so dusty that even the largest telescopes can barely see into them at optical wavelengths. By observing at infrared wavelengths, we can see deeper into the LIRGs where supernovae could be hiding. Furthermore, we can use the technique of adaptive optics to overcome the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere, and help to reveal the supernovae and the stellar clusters in which they form.

We have recently embarked on a campaign to find supernovae in LIRGs, using a state-of-the art Laser Guide Star adaptive optics system on the 8 metre Gemini South telescope and the Australian-built Gemini South Adaptive Optics Imager. Opportunities exist for a PhD student to play a key role in coordinating this campaign, in image analysis, and following up the supernova discoveries they make at infrared and radio wavelengths. In addition to discovering supernovae, the student will use the resulting LIRG images (the sharpest and deepest ever obtained) to work out what drives the extreme star formation in the first place.

Please contact Stuart Ryder for further information.

Australian Astronomical Observatory Projects
AAO staff

The Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) hosts research staff in areas of optical/infrared astronomy and instrumentation. Strong collaborative links exist between AAO and MQ AAAstro, including a number of joint staff positions between the institutes. PhD projects are available that can be jointly supervised by AAO staff and astronomers at AAAstro. You can view the current listing of AAO PhD projects here. Otherwise you can browse the research interests of AAO staff here

Please contact the relevant AAO staff person for arranging a suitable MQ supervisor for the project.

CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Projects
CASS staff

The CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) is the home for a number research staff in areas of radio astronomy and instrumentation. MQ AAAstro is in the process of establishing collaborative links with CASS staff and there are opportunities for joint PhD projects. CASS staff interests can be browsed here.

If you are interested, please follow the proceedure here for arranging a MQ supervisor for the project.

PhD Application Information

Why a PhD at MQ AAAstro?

  •  • Generous individual research support budget.
  •  • Opportunity for observing trips to telescopes (e.g. Magellan in Chile and Keck in Hawaii).
  •  • Links with innovative instrumentation engineers and astronomers at the Australian Astronomical Observatory and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science
  •  • Living expenses and fees included in scholarship award.
  •  • Fastest-growing astronomy research centre in Australia.
  •  • High-quality research environment - ranked as an equal among Australia's top astronomy research centres (ERA 2012 rank)
  •  • Live in vibrant Sydney while working on the beautiful Macquarie University campus.

How to apply

PhD scholarships for domestic and international students include nearly $25,000/year for living expenses and all program fees for the duration of the project. Certain projects have an allocated scholarship, others can attract a domestic or international scholarship. Application instructions are available here (international students also see this page), but first please contact the relevant supervisor listed next to the project.


Applications are accepted in September.

Cotutelle and joint PhD program

Macquarie University also runs cotutelle and joint-PhD programs, which allows PhD students to be affiliated with Macquarie and another university overseas. More information is available here.


High-quality students with strong undergraduate marks and Masters degree completed. Exceptional students with prizes and research publications have a good chance at winning a scholarship. Generally you need a 4 or 5 ranking on this system to win a PhD scholarship. Alternatively, you can apply through the new MRes program and transfer to the PhD program.

Don't have a Masters degree? Macquarie has a new Astrophysics Masters program. More information is available here.

Think you might want to do a PhD at MQ AAAstro?

For more information on qualifications, deadlines and projects available, contact the potential supervisor above. Or come over to the campus for a visit!