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Radboud University > Faculty of Science > Department of Astrophysics

Student Projects

Many Bachelor and Master projects are possible in astronomy, astrophysics or astroparticle physics, most of which are defined flexibly so that they can be adapted to be a project which fits you best. Do you prefer observational work, numerical simulations or theory? Or maybe instrumentation or education? Do you have ideas about which subject you are interested in, or are you open to anything?

The best way to discover the possibilities and decide which project fits you best is to make an appointment with a (number of) potential supervisor(s) and have a chat with them. Below we list a number of example projects to give you an idea of the possibilities. Please contact the people listed for an appointment to talk about possible projects, either based on the ones below or not.

Example Bachelor Projects

(For example Master projects, see below)

The Nijmegen Radio Interferometer

In June 2012, the Ulrich J. Schwarz Radio Interferometer on the roof of the Nijmegen Astrophysics Department was officially opened. Several projects are available to work with this telescope: technical/calibration projects such as measuring the antenna pattern of the dishes, but also scientific projects such as measuring neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way, studying the quiet and the flaring Sun, or trying to detect variability in extragalactic sources.
Contact: Elmar Körding

Improve weather modelling and prediction for astronomical observations

Analyse weather information from KNWI weather predictions and actual measurements to improve weather predictions for astronomical observations of radio telescopes worldwide.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Numerical Simulation of Plasma Flow and Radiation near Black Holes

Use General Relativistic Magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations and ray tracing programs to calculate certain aspects of the appearance and properties of black holes. Potentially compare that to observational data.
Contact: Monika Moscibrodzka

Use Astronomical techniques to localise terrestrial radio sources

With LOFAR we can image an localise lightning flashes and cosmic rays in 3D. Employ those techniques used in radio astronomy to improve ground-based radio localisation and tracking services.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Space radio astronomy

Contribute to a study developing concepts for space-based radio interferometers trying to detect the dark ages of the early universe or the event horizon of black holes.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Radio Telescope Monitoring & Control

Contribute to software we develop to remotely control and monitor radio telescope equipment used for imaging black holes.
Contact: Heino Falcke

UV-excess source selection in the Galactic Plane Surveys

The European Galactic Plane surveys image the Milky Way in optical bands (u,g,r,i,Ha) using the INT on La Palma and the VST in Chile. One of the aims is to obtain a census of the Galactic population of stellar remnants. A large fraction of these can be found through their blue colour. This translates into a blue u-g colour, with respect to g-r. With the Northern UVEX now 90% complete and VPHAS at 40% done, now is the time to obtain a much larger sample than the one presented in Verbeek et al., 2011. Also, a simplified and more robust algorithm is in place at the moment. References: Groot et al., 2009, MNRAS
Contact: Paul Groot

Machine Learning algorithms in Astronomical Big Data

Astronomy is Big Data. With the upcoming surveys with MeerLICHT and BlackGEM and also with our completed surveys of OmegaWhite and the European Galactic Plane Surveys we have built up a large database of optical observations. To maximize the scientific yield we are now making use of machine learning algorithms to select and study populations of objects. Contact: Paul Groot

Development of data acquisition software for a scintillator array in LOFAR

We are currently building a scintillator array for the LOFAR radio observatory. Within the student project the read out software for the scintillation counters will be developed.
Contact: Jörg Hörandel

Detection of radio emission from air showers with LOFAR

Objective of the LOFAR key science project cosmic rays is the detection of radio emission from air showers. For this purpose the read-out of the LOFAR antennas will be triggered by information from an air shower detector - LORA. Aim of the student project is to analyze the data taken with the radio antennas of the LOFAR telescope and to infer the properties of the radio emission from extensive air showers.
Contact: Jörg Hörandel

Obtaining fundamental parameters of stellar black holes

In recent years we have found a number of correlations between different parameters of accreting black holes, that depend on some of its basic parameters (like the mass, the distance, etc). Some these parameters are hard to measure directly. Thus, we will use the correlations mentioned above as an indirect method to estimate these parameters. Contact: Elmar Koerding

Simulated observations of stellar populations and star clusters with Extremely Large Telescopes

The next generation of extremely large optical telescopes (ELTs) will be equipped with powerful adaptive optics systems. These will provide extremely sharp images of distant galaxies. The aim of this project is to simulate such observations by generating artificial images resembling those that will be produced by the ELTs. These simulations will be used to quantify the limits at which individual stars can be identified and studied.
Contact: Søren Larsen

The population of supernovae in galaxies

Massive stars explode at the end of their lives as supernovae. If the star is part of a binary system, its hydrogen envelope may be lost to its companion, giving rise to a different type of supernovae. The numbers and fractions of different supernovae can be used to test the evolution of massive binaries. The student will simulate different galaxies and compare the observed supernova rates to the models.
Contact: Gijs Nelemans

Unveiling the formation process of the most massive stars with radio interferometry

O-type stars (massive stars with 20 solar masses or more) are prominent in the ecology of the interstellar medium and the evolution of galaxies, but their formation mechanism is still uncertain. Direct imaging on scales of hundreds of AU is critical to unveil the physics at work in the innermost reaches around massive protostars and to test theoretical models via comparison with observations, but the latter are limited by high extinction, clustering, and large distances. Radio interferometry is the technique to make high-angular resolution images of cosmic sources and in particular spectral line observations can provide unique information on kinematics, physical conditions, composition, and magnetic properties of the exciting gas. In the project, the student will learn the principles of interferometry, data calibration, imaging techniques, and spectral line analysis. He/she will have a choice to work on different spectral line datasets from different molecules (H2O, SiO, CH3OH, NH3) acquired with the largest existing radio-interferometers (JVLA, ALMA, VLBI) in a sample containing the most luminous high-mass star forming regions in the Galaxy.
Contact: Ciriaco Goddi

Towards a complete census of star formation efficiency in the Milky Way

Star formation is the key astrophysical process that determines the fate of galaxies and consequently the evolution of the Universe. Despite its importance, there are still many open questions, in particular regarding the efficiency of star formation. In our Galaxy, only a small fraction of the cold molecular gas ends up in stars. Why? For the first time we have the data sets needed to address this question in a complete and consistent manner: the widely used Dame et al. CO survey that traces the cold molecular gas (pre-star formation) and the new Parkes RRL survey that traces hot gas (ionized by recently formed stars). By combining these two surveys, the student will identify star-formation regions across the Galactic plane, determine their physical properties (mass, temperature, distance/size) and their star formation efficiency. These different quantities will then be correlated to find any trends in the star formation efficiency and to pinpoint their origin. In this project the student will learn how to handle spectral line observations from single dish radio telescopes and how to convert line emission into physical properties of interstellar gas. He/she will also learn and contribute to the understanding of the distribution of gas in the Galactic plane (spiral arms).
Contact: Marta I. R . Alves and Marijke Haverkorn

Local Galactic magnetic fields, from combining radio and optical data

Magnetic fields in the local interstellar medium can be charted with radio-polarimetry measurements of diffuse Galactic synchrotron emission, using the newly developed technique of Rotation Measure Synthesis (RMS). However, interpretation of RMS results is everything but straightforward. E.g. it is impossible to assign distance estimates to detected polarized structures. In this project, you will combine this technique with optical polarization of starlight to aid interpretation of RMS detections. Looking for similarities between the two data sets, it may become possible to assign distances and detect correlations between interstellar components.
Contact: Marijke Haverkorn

Example Master Projects

Collaboration of the Radboud University with the German Max Planck Gesellschaft has resulted in internship opportunities for Radboud students at one of the Max Planck Institutes, for a period of 6 to 12 months. Many of our staff members collaborate with colleagues at one of these institute. Be sure to ask for possibilities if you are interested in an internship in Germany.

MSc and BSc project connected with the MeerLICHT and BlackGEM optical synoptic surveys

Many MSc and BSc projects are possible using the newly developed MeerLICHT and BlackGEM telescopes, both in the field of data exploitation as well as in the field of instrumentation and commissioning. Here is an overview of the projects and the possibilities. Contact: Paul Groot Steven Bloemen

The Bayesian Machine for Milky Way modeling

Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHERCs) are extremely relativistic particles coming from extragalactic space. Their exact sources are unknown (Active Galactic Nuclei? Jets? Gamma-ray bursts?), and their paths are deflected when they travel through the Milky Way's magnetic field to Earth. To correct for these deflections and figure out UHECR sources, a good model of the Milky Way's magnetic field is crucial. In an international collaboration, we are building a software framework based on Bayesian inference to address this question, in order to study possible UHECR sources and magnetic field configurations. One Masters student has started testing and using the initial Bayesian pipeline in Jan 2016. An other Masters project is available to solve particular parts of the remaining challenges (such as including random magnetic field components in the model) or adding different observational data sets. This project will involve international travel to collaborators. The student will learn about cosmic ray physics and cosmic magnetism, and he/she will acquire expertise in handling software (python) and Bayesian statistics.
Contact: Jörg Rachen, Marijke Haverkorn

Improve weather modelling and prediction for astronomical observations

Analyse weather information from KNWI weather predictions and actual measurements to improve weather predictions for astronomical observations of radio telescopes worldwide.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Numerical Simulation of Plasma Flow and Radiation near Black Holes

Use General Relativistic Magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations and ray tracing programs to calculate certain aspects of the appearance and properties of black holes. Potentially compare that to observational data.
Contact: Monika Moscibrodzka

Use Astronomical techniques to localise terrestrial radio sources

With LOFAR we can image an localise lightning flashes and cosmic rays in 3D. Employ those techniques used in radio astronomy to improve ground-based radio localisation and tracking services.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Space radio astronomy

Contribute to a study developing concepts for space-based radio interferometers trying to detect the dark ages of the early universe or the event horizon of black holes.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Radio Telescope Monitoring & Control

Contribute to software we develop to remotely control and monitor radio telescope equipment used for imaging black holes.
Contact: Heino Falcke

Measurement of the energy spectrum of primary cosmic rays with LORA

Recently, we finished the installation of an air shower detector in the core of the LOFAR experiment, the LOFAR Radboud Air shower array. It is a set-up comprising 20 scintillator stations. Aim of the student project is to use the data taken with this experiment to derive the energy spectrum of primary cosmic rays.
Contact: Jörg Hörandel

Detection of radio emission from air showers with LOFAR

Objective of the LOFAR key science project cosmic rays is the detection of radio emission from air showers. For this purpose the read-out of the LOFAR antennas will be triggered by information from an air shower detector - LORA. Aim of the student project is to analyze the data taken with the radio antennas of the LOFAR telescope and to infer the properties of the radio emission from extensive air showers.
Contact: Jörg Hörandel

Investigation of solar activity with data from the Pierre Auger Observatory

With the surface detectors of the Pierre Auger Observatory the flux of muons is premanently monitored. These particles originate from low energy cosmic rays, they are modulated by the heliospheric magnetic fields. The measured rates will be analyzed on different time scales and will be correlated with data from the world-wide neutron monitor network.
Contact: Jörg Hörandel

Development of a cosmic-ray detector for a satellite

We plan to fly a small cosmic-ray detector on a mini satellite (CUBESAT). Aim of the student project is to develop and test a small instrument to measure cosmic rays. Goal of the project is to verify the correct operation of the detector with measurements of secondary cosmic rays at ground level.
Contact: Jörg Hörandel

Spectroscopic detection of multiple stellar populations in star clusters

It was once thought that globular star clusters are “simple stellar populations” consisting of stars with a single age and chemical composition. It is now clear that this is not the case: a variety of observations have convincingly demonstrated that the chemical abundances of individual stars can vary significantly from star to star. This is a big puzzle, because star clusters are believed to form in a single “burst” of star formation, out of a single gas cloud. Until now, however, the evidence for multiple stellar populations in star clusters is mainly based on observations in our own Galaxy, where the individual stars can be resolved. In this project, we will investigate whether it is possible to identify these variations in more distant clusters, where only the integrated light of all the stars can be observed. We will do this by computing model spectra of different clusters with known composition and then “analyse” these model spectra in the same way that one would analyse the spectrum of a real star cluster.
Contact: Søren Larsen

Globular clusters in the UVEX survey

In this project, observations from the UVEX survey of the Northern Galactic plane will be used to study multiple stellar populations in globular clusters. The U-band observations are well suited for identifying multiple stellar populations in the clusters and study their radial distributions, currently a “hot topic” as the origin of these multiple populations remains mysterious. In particular, the radial distributions of the different populations in some clusters appear to be different from those predicted by models, but only a small number of clusters have been studied in detail so far.
Contact: Søren Larsen and Paul Groot

Unveiling the formation process of the most massive stars with radio interferometry

O-type stars (massive stars with 20 solar masses or more) are prominent in the ecology of the interstellar medium and the evolution of galaxies, but their formation mechanism is still uncertain. Direct imaging on scales of hundreds of AU is critical to unveil the physics at work in the innermost reaches around massive protostars and to test theoretical models via comparison with observations, but the latter are limited by high extinction, clustering, and large distances. Radio interferometry is the technique to make high-angular resolution images of cosmic sources and in particular spectral line observations can provide unique information on kinematics, physical conditions, composition, and magnetic properties of the exciting gas. In the project, the student will learn the principles of interferometry, data calibration, imaging techniques, and spectral line analysis. He/she will have a choice to work on different spectral line datasets from different molecules (H2O, SiO, CH3OH, NH3) acquired with the largest existing radio-interferometers (JVLA, ALMA, VLBI) in a sample containing the most luminous high-mass star forming regions in the Galaxy.
Contact: Ciriaco Goddi

Towards a complete census of star formation efficiency in the Milky Way

Star formation is the key astrophysical process that determines the fate of galaxies and consequently the evolution of the Universe. Despite its importance, there are still many open questions, in particular regarding the efficiency of star formation. In our Galaxy, only a small fraction of the cold molecular gas ends up in stars. Why? For the first time we have the data sets needed to address this question in a complete and consistent manner: the widely used Dame et al. CO survey that traces the cold molecular gas (pre-star formation) and the new Parkes RRL survey that traces hot gas (ionized by recently formed stars). By combining these two surveys, the student will identify star-formation regions across the Galactic plane, determine their physical properties (mass, temperature, distance/size) and their star formation efficiency. These different quantities will then be correlated to find any trends in the star formation efficiency and to pinpoint their origin. In this project the student will learn how to handle spectral line observations from single dish radio telescopes and how to convert line emission into physical properties of interstellar gas. He/she will also learn and contribute to the understanding of the distribution of gas in the Galactic plane (spiral arms).
Contact: Marta I. R . Alves and Marijke Haverkorn

Local Galactic magnetic fields, from combining radio and optical data

Magnetic fields in the local interstellar medium can be charted with radio-polarimetry measurements of diffuse Galactic synchrotron emission, using the newly developed technique of Rotation Measure Synthesis (RMS). However, interpretation of RMS results is everything but straightforward. E.g. it is impossible to assign distance estimates to detected polarized structures. In this project, you will combine this technique with optical polarization of starlight to aid interpretation of RMS detections. Looking for similarities between the two data sets, it may become possible to assign distances and detect correlations between interstellar components.
Contact: Marijke Haverkorn

Tidal disruption events

For several decades, astronomers have speculated that a hapless star could wander too close to a super massive black hole (SMBH) and be torn apart by tidal forces. It has only been with the recent advent of numerous wide field transient surveys that such events have been detected in the form of giant-amplitude, luminous flares of electromagnetic radiation from the centers of otherwise quiescent galaxies. The discoveries, spanning the whole electromagnetic spectrum from X-rays, over UV and optical events, to a small number of events launching relativistic radio jets, have caused widespread excitement, as we can use these tidal disruption flares (TDEs) to study the mass of SMBHs in quiescent galaxies, the stellar populations and dynamics in galactic nuclei, the physics of black hole accretion under extreme conditions including the potential to detect relativistic effects near the SMBH, and the physics of radio jet formation and evolution in a pristine environment. In the group of Peter Jonker, there are two projects related to these TDEs: -How to distinguish tidal disruption events from variability by AGN using optical light curve data? The idea in the literature is that the rise to peak and the general light curve evolution in TDEs is much more smooth than that afforded by more common AGN variability. We seek a Master student to investigate these claims by looking at and characterizing the optical light curves of known AGNs and TDEs. Using the outcome of this study we can help the selection of TDEs in the upcoming BlackGEM survey. -One particular event published in Nature Astronomy by Tadhunter et al. 2017, is claimed to be a TDE, but in a new paper we found two similar events which cast doubt on the TDE interpretation or the TDE phenomena are much wider than observed so far. We have obtained follow-up optical spectroscopic data with the WHT that show a massive outflow. We seek a Master student who can analyse the WHT in detail and help us decide on the nature of this and the similar events.
Contact: Davide Lena, Francesca Onori, and Peter Jonker

Binary population synthesis of electron-capture supernovae

Electron-capture supernovae (EC-SNe) mark the boundary between the final fates of intermediate-mass stars, leaving white dwarf remnants, and massive stars undergoing iron-core collapse supernovae (FeCC-SNe). EC-SNe, and perhaps the lowest-mass FeCC-SNe, have been suggested to impart much smaller kicks to their neutron star remnants than more massive CC-SNe. This may be reflected in the observed bimodal velocity distribution of radio pulsars, and in the orbital properties of neutron-star binaries, in particular the eccentricities of double neutron stars. In this project we will use the results of recent detailed evolution calculations of EC-SNe in binary systems, to study their effect on binary populations as a whole. We will update and use an existing binary population synthesis code (binary_c) complemented with detailed binary calculations (using MESA) where necessary. The goal is to determine the relative occurrence rate of EC-SNe in binaries versus that in single stars, their effect on the overall neutron-star velocity distribution, and their impact on the orbits of neutron-star binaries.
Contact: Onno Pols

Tidal interaction in red-giant binary systems

A well-know consequence of tidal interaction in binaries is circularisation of the orbit, once the radius of one of the stars grows to a substantial fraction of the semi-major axis. Indeed, the orbits of binary systems containing a red giant (RG) with periods less than a few hundred days are mostly circular, whereas main-sequence binaries with periods larger than about 10 days are typically quite eccentric. While this is apparently consistent with the standard theory of the equilibrium tide, there are some notable exceptions: some RG binaries in which the tidal deformation of the red giant is directly observed (in the form of ellipsoidal variations) are substantially eccentric. Also many binaries in which one star has evolved beyond the RG stage, and which should therefore have circularised when the RG had its largest radius, are still eccentric.
A master project investigating these problems can take different forms, depending on the interest of the student. (1) Quantifying the discrepancy of standard tidal theory by tracing back the evolutionary history of observed RG binaries using binary evolution codes. (2) The largest red giants are often radial pulsators, which is not taken into account in standard tidal theory. In a hybrid theoretical/numerical study we can investigate how these pulsations interact with the tides and modify the circularisation process.
Contact: Onno Pols