Research Projects

The Department of Astrophysics at UNSW hosts a wide variety of projects for students of all levels, from Honours to PhD. Our researchers use a plethora of telescopes covering the optical, infrared, sub-mm, and radio wavelengths, as well as theoretical problems, instrument design and engineering, Antarctic site testing, and space telescopes. Please explore the pages below to see what we have to offer!

Antarctic Astronomy and Instrumentation

Over a decade of site testing in Antarctica has shown that both South Pole and Dome C are exceptional sites for astronomy, with certain atmospheric conditions greatly superior to those at existing mid-latitude sites. The highest point on the Antarctic plateau, Dome A, is expected to experience even colder atmospheric temperatures, lower wind speeds, and a turbulent boundary layer that is confined even closer to the ground.

PLATO - the PLATeau Observatory - is a self-contained automated platform for conducting year-round, experiments completely robotically from the Antarctic plateau. Since 27 January 2008, PLATO has been running autonomously at Dome A. Iridium satellite communications are used for monitoring and control, with the majority of the data to be returned by the next traverse in January 2009. PLATO is now operational and all its instruments are working. Refer to the sidebar for detailed information regarding the instruments on PLATO. A tremendous amount of data is being collected by PLATO and PhD students will be needed to analyse that data.

PLATO Website

PILOT - the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope - is a proposed 2.4-m aperture optical/IR telescope to be sited at Concordia Station, Dome C, Antarctica. PILOT would be placed on a 30m tower to get above the majority of the turbulent boundary layer, and from there would enjoy the lowest infrared backgrounds and best seeing conditions of any telescope on earth. PhD students are needed to work on this exciting project.

PILOT Website

The Large Antarctic Plateau Clear-Aperture Telescope (LAPCAT) is a proposed 8.4-m off-axis optical/IR telescope to be located at Dome C, Antarctica. One of the primary science drivers for LAPCAT will be to directly image exo-planets. The high thermal infrared sensitivity, the high level of correction achievable with its adaptive optics system, and the telescope optical configuration make LAPCAT uniquely capable for such science. PhD students are needed to further the design of this telescope. The thesis will act doubly as a proposal for the telescope, which we hope to get to Antarctica within a decade.

LAPCAT Website


Pre-Biotic Molecules in the ISM

Habitable Planet Search
One of the undeniable "holy grails" in astronomy is the search for habitable terrestrial planets - unfortunately detecting Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits around Sun-like (ie. G-type) stars is some way off - their Doppler Wobble signatures are just too small, and they are also rediculously faint compared to their host stars. By targeting smaller, fainter "dwarf" stars, this problem can be solved. However, many questions need to be answered: What's the best way to structure its habitable planet survey? What will the selection effects of such a survey, and how will we extrapolate from habitable planet detections to their frequency throughout the Universe? How intrinsically stable are the velocities of these low-mass stars? How will the varying throughput and emission of the near-infrared sky be dealt with? Attacking these questions as a PhD project will put Australia and the Gemini partners in an excellent position to "hit the ground running" when PRVS goes into operation.

Project Website | Honours projects | PhD projects

Australian Centre for Astrobiology
Formed in 2001 at Macquarie University, the ACA moved to UNSW in 2008. The ACA, in collaboration with NASA, is working on projects in astronomy, biology, geology, paleontology, physics, science communication, and other disciplines. Recent discoveries in astrobiology are rapidly changing our view of the potential for life elsewhere in the Universe. All ACA doctoral students have the opportunity to spend time at NASA in some capacity during their PhD studies and the first three ACA graduates are all now working at NASA.

ACA Website | Honours and PhD Projects

Cosmology and Fundamental Constants

Extrasolar Planetary Science

Radial Velocity and Direct Detection
Prof. Tinney's group uses both Doppler Wobble techniques to detect planets orbiting other stars, and direct imaging techniques to seek unbound (i.e. free-floating) planets in nearby stars clusters and as companions to nearby young stars. The group makes use of all of Australia's largest telescopes - the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the Magellan telescopes and Gemini. Please contact Prof Chris Tinney if you are interested in working on these exciting projects.

Project Website | Honours projects | PhD projects

Transit Detection
The APT group at UNSW searches for transiting Hot Jupiters using the dedicated Automated Patrol Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory. We are currently installing a brand new CCD camera onto the APT which should increase our detection rate tenfold. We need students to help us develop new software, improve detection methods, incorporate new programs, and search for new planets. Follow-up observations will be conducted on the 2.3-m telescope and 3.0-m AAT, also at Siding Spring. Please contact Prof John Webb or Prof Michael Ashely if you are interested in working on this project.

Project Website | Honours projects | PhD projects

Star Formation and the ISM

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