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Queen's University Of Belfast

Queen's University Of Belfast (Physics and Astronomy)


Dept: Astrophysics Research Centre
Head of Department: Professor P. L. Dufton
Courses offered: PhD (3 years)
Studentships available: STFC and DEL awards; QUB-funded awards
Average intake: 3-4
Entry requirements: A minimum of a 2.1 BSc. Preference is given to applicants with a MPhys or MSci 4-year undergraduate degree.

General Information

The Astrophysics Research Centre carries out UK and EU supported astronomical research in the School of Mathematics and Physics. The research is largely of an observational nature, requiring extensive use of international telescopes such as HST, VLT and Gemini, and we are part of the UK Pan-STARRS science consortium. We also have a focused instrumentation programme to support our research, which has resulted in the SuperWASP planet finder, the ROSA solar imager and the RISE high-speed camera. Additionally we perform theoretical calculations to support our research areas, including astrochemistry and astrophysical plasmas. Our group is actively growing with almost 40 members at present. We welcome enquiries from potential PhD students who may be interested in our research programmes which include:


Supernovae and massive stars
We study the evolution and death of the most massive stars in core-collapse supernovae. This involves tracing the effects of stellar rotation and initial metallicity on evolution and finding the direct progenitor stars of supernovae. We study the evolution of supernovae, the physics of core-collapse, cosmological dust production and the origin of the chemical elements. These programmes involve the use of ESO VLT, Gemini, HST, Spitzer and will employ the Pan-STARRS survey in the future.


Hot stars
Stellar spectra are analysed to estimate physical parameters and chemical compositions. These are used to map the composition of external galaxies, investigate young stars in the Galactic halo and identify old stars evolving into planetary nebulae. There is also an extensive research programme on circumstellar material, in particular the shells of planetary nebulae. Current projects include the use of the HST and VLT to investigate the Magellanic Clouds, large-scale optical surveys of the Galactic halo, and spectroscopy of binary stars in planetary nebulae.


Comets and Asteroids
We run a leading research programme in deriving physical properties of asteroids and comets using optical and infrared observations, typically with 2m-8m class facilties. Currently we are concentrating on investigating the compositions of small Near-Earth Objects and searching for binarity using high spatial resolution adaptive optics imaging. At the same time we are commencing a project to search for and characterize comets and asteroids in extra-Solar planetary systems.


Since commissioning the SuperWASP Camera on La Palma in 2003 this has become the most successful exoplanet discovery program in the UK with currently 22 new planets found. These objects range in size from Saturn up to the largest known planets. Based around this success we have developed a full exoplanet programme with involvement in ground based observations (eg we led the successful International time proposals to the Canary Island Observatories in 2007 and 2008 - around 150 nights of telescope time) for discovery (primarily through transit timing) and characterisation. For the future we are heavily involved in the next generation of space based surveys through our participation in ESA's Cosmic Vision PLATO mission.


Solar physics
Ground-based and satellite solar observations are performed to investigate the processes that heat the Sun's outer atmosphere. Emphasis is placed on the study of magnetohydrodynamic wave modes and reconnection events. There is an extensive programme of ground-based solar observing which employs telescopes at La Palma Spain and Sacramento Peak Observatories in the USA. This work includes multi-wavelength high cadence imaging instruments and Fabry-Perot interferometers.


Molecular astrophysics
We use emission from molecules in space to probe the physical parameters and processes that occur in the formation and death of stars. Much of our work is concerned with fundamental chemical kinetic modelling of various astronomical sources together with sub-millimetre observations of both high-mass and low-mass star formation using telescopes in Hawaii, Spain, Germany and Japan. We have been involved in a European-wide project, The Molecular Universe, in preparation for the launch of the Herschel Space Observatory in 2009 and plans to make use of the new ALMA interferometer currently under construction in the Atacama desert in Chile.



We are a major user of UK-supported observatories in the optical, infra-red and sub-mm. These include the HST, Spitzer, VLT, Gemini along with other telescopes such as the WHT, NTT and AAT. Data reduction and analysis is generally performed using individual workstations in a large astronomy computer network within the Centre. In addition we have a large computer cluster dedicated to support the data obtained from the ROSA, SuperWASP and Pan-STARRS projects.


Contact Details
Prof. Philip Dufton
Astrophysics Research Centre
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Queen's University of Belfast
Belfast BT7 1NN
Tel:+44 02890 973552
Fax:+44 02890 973110
University website:http://www.qub.ac.uk/
Course website:http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/