PhD Opportunities

We welcome applications from prospective PhD students interested in the projects listed below.

We offer fully-funded positions to UK and international students. Our PhD students typically receive a stipend of approximately £15,000 per year in addition to some/all of their tuition fees. The tuition of UK students (approximately £4,000 per year) is covered in full. Overseas students normally need to cover tuition fees of approximately £24,000 per year (meaning an extra £20,000 per year needs to be covered compared to a UK student). We are allowed to waive the overseas fees for a small number of excellent international students. In addition, overseas tuition fees can be covered with external funds, e.g., Bell–Burnell studentshipFulbright fellowship.

Applications for fully-funded positions are due on 15 January.

To apply, visit the list of PhD opportunities in Physics & Astronomy and select the right project for you.

Alternatively, select PhD in Department of Physics and Astronomy in the University Application Portal. Then, in your cover letter, mention clearly you are applying for a PhD in Extragalactic Astronomy.

Please email the relevant PhD supervisor below for further details.

Available PhD projects

Tidal disruptions of stars by supermassive black holes

Supervisor: Dr Clément Bonnerot

When a star wanders too close to a supermassive black hole, it gets torn apart by extreme gravitational forces, leading to a powerful flash of light detectable from billions of light years (see here for a recent example).

While most of these black holes lie undetectable in the centers of galaxies, such tidal disruption events represent unique probes to shed light on these gargantuan objects and the extreme processes happening in their vicinity. Starting next year, this research field will be revolutionized by the Rubin Observatory, which is expected to discover several thousands of new events throughout the Universe.

The main goal of this PhD project is to build a robust theoretical framework that can be used to optimally interpret the emission received from tidal disruption events at the dawn of this observational golden era. This work will involve both pen-and-paper calculations and simulations carried out on supercomputers to reach an understanding of the complex gas dynamics at play when a star gets destroyed by a black hole, and to determine the resulting emission that observers can detect.

Depending on interests, this project can also be extended to different aspects of tidal disruption events or the study of other high-energy systems, particularly those leading to the emission of gravitational waves.

Gamma-ray bursts and multi-messenger astronomy

Supervisor: Dr Ben Gompertz

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosive events in the universe, releasing as much energy in 10 seconds as the entire Milky Way galaxy does in several years. They are associated with either the collapse of very massive stars (long gamma-ray bursts) or collisions between two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole (short gamma-ray bursts). Because of this, gamma-ray bursts can tell us about some of the most extreme environments in nature, and are confirmed counterparts to gravitational-wave sources.

During this PhD, students will have the opportunity to research the systems that produce gamma-ray bursts, the environments they explode into, their connection to the creation of the heaviest elements in the universe, and their ability to probe gravitational-wave sources. An interested student will be able to join international collaborations like GOTOLSST, STARGATE, and ENGRAVE, and gain access to some of the most powerful telescopes and satellite observatories in the world.

Galaxy formation with the next generation of telescopes

Supervisor: Dr Sean McGee

During this PhD, the next generation of telescopes and surveys used to study galaxy formation will become available. This includes new observatories like Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the Euclid space telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope as well as new instruments like WEAVE on the William Herschel Telescope and MOONS on the Very Large Telescopes. This PhD will prepare and make use of these new tools to examine galaxy formation.

There are several possible projects including, but not limited to: the tidal disruption of stars by the black holes in galaxies and their subsequent effect on the galaxy hosts; the effect of environment on the formation of galaxies through cosmic time; and constraining the mass function of dark matter halos with strong gravitational lensing.

Multi-messenger gravitational lensing

Supervisor: Prof. Graham Smith

Multi-messenger gravitational lensing is an exciting and rapidly growing field, fuelled by the first discovery of a multiply-imaged supernova, the first direct detection of gravitational waves, and the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory (Rubin). The basic idea is that the flux from some high energy events (e.g. supernovae, gamma ray bursts, and mergers of compact objects) in the distant universe can be magnified and even split in to several images of the same event, by a gravitational lens (galaxy, group or cluster of galaxies) along our line of sight.

Detection and detailed study of this phenomenon probe a wide range of fundamental physics including tests of general relativity, the nature of dark matter, the expansion history of the universe, and the physics of explosive transients and their progenitors in the distant universe. In Birmingham we are at the forefront of multi-messenger gravitational lensing research, including the search for lensed optical counterparts to lensed lensed gravitational wave sources. We are pursuing this research within the framework provided by Rubin's Strong Lensing Science Collaboration, and the LSST:UK Consortium, for which Prof. Smith is currently co-Chair and Commissioning Scientist respectively.

A PhD in Birmingham would see students joining these organisations and thus having Rubin data rights, and collaborating with us and our international colleagues on this cutting edge research. The PhD project will be constructed to suit students' strengths and interests, and for example can focus on analysis of observational data aiming to make ground-breaking discoveries, and/or modelling and interpretation of discoveries to learn new physics. To get a flavour of our work and the opportunities available to a new student, please see the links below.