PHD projects

PhD projects

We are recruiting PhD students to be part of our Astronomy group at the University of Southampton.

If you are interested in working with me on Supermassive Black Holes, Active Galactic Nuclei or Galaxy Evolution please see below for some of the possible research projects.

Please visit the Southampton recruitment page and/or contact me for more information.

Probing the mass and growth
of supermassive black holes

3.5/4 years - Application deadline 31 January 2023

The accretion of gas onto supermassive black holes is one of the most efficient known processes to convert mass to energy. While the black hole is growing in mass, a significant amount of energy is emitted into its surroundings. These objects are called active supermassive black holes or Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) and are observed in the centres of galaxies.

Even though only a small fraction of supermassive black holes is active, AGN are thought to be able to influence the growth of the galaxies in which they live. In this project the student will use new observations from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to 1) investigate how black hole activity varies with time and 2) measure the mass of a large sample of active supermassive black holes for the first time. Both the variability and mass of the black holes are key parameters to understanding the physics of black hole accretion and growth.

The student will use their findings to characterise the timescale in which AGN of different brightness vary and determine how the black hole masses are related to the large-scale properties of the host galaxies. The student will be part of ESO’s 4MOST consortium and TiDES-RM (Time Domain Extragalactic Survey – Reverberation Mapping), a new survey which will soon start observing hundreds of AGN.

Image credits: artist’s concept, NASA/JPL-Caltech

Only a small fraction of supermassive black holes is currently actively accreting gas and emitting energy into their surroundings. The active states are called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) but most supermassive black holes are inactive or accreting gas at an extremely low rate. We still do not know what physical processes control if black holes are active or inactive.

In this project the student will investigate a new class of AGN that may shed light on the process of black hole activation. These are called Changing-Look AGN and are observed to transition between active and inactive states in a matter of years or decades. The student will use multi-wavelength observations to study the properties of Changing-Look AGN and determine how they differ from other AGN. The student will also have the chance to propose new observations of recently discovered Changing-Look AGN using ground-based and space-based telescopes.