From ancient stars to modern explosions: unravelling the progenitors of type Ia supernovae

Start date

1 October 2024


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

UKRI and/or University of Surrey

Funding information

We are offering the UKRI standard stipend (currently £18,622 per year) with an additional bursary of £1,700 per year for full 3.5 years for exceptional candidates. In addition, a research, training and support grant of £3,000 over the project is also offered. Full home or overseas tuition fees (as applicable) will be covered.


Type-Ia supernovae (SNeIa) are key to cosmology, being standardizable candles that proved the Universe is expanding, and are primary producers of iron in stars and galaxies. Yet, the stellar systems that explode and the nature of the trigger remains mysterious. This project focuses on understanding exploding white dwarfs as the triggers of SNeIa by expanding our recently developed detailed modelling of such binary-star systems, and applications to stellar-population modelling in a galactic context with machine learning to determine the true SNIa progenitors. 

(a) Using our recently developed MESA models of thermonuclear novae, we aim to uncover which binary systems ignite carbon and explode as SNeIa, modelling the evolution of hydrogen- and helium-accreting white dwarfs from mass-transfer to ignition. 

(b) By systematically varying factors that affect nova/SNIa explosions, such as binary-star physics and reaction rates, we will address model uncertainties. This is vital to the astrophysics and nuclear-physics communities, and will guide experimental design in the latter. 

(c) Our detailed models will combine with Surrey's binary_c stellar-population framework to estimate thermonuclear-nova and SNIa rates and ejection histories across cosmic time. Comparing with observations of Galactic stars classified by cutting-edge machine-learning algorithms, the possible explosion channels will be pinned down. The project leverages the supervisory team's expertise in binary-stellar evolution, stellar archaeology, machine learning (through the existing CDT), and nuclear astrophysics. Our established cross-disciplinary modelling framework ensures rapid progress to key publications and cross-disciplinary impact. Our collaborations with the UK BRIDGCE network, including the Belfast supernova and Hertfordshire galactic-chemical-evolution groups, promise wide-reaching applications and exposure.

Eligibility criteria

Open to both UK and international candidates.

Up to 30% of our UKRI-funded studentships can be awarded to candidates paying international rate fees. Find out more about eligibility.

You will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for our Physics PhD programme.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Physics PhD programme page. In place of a research proposal, you should upload a document stating the title of the project that you wish to apply for and the name of the relevant supervisor.

Studentship FAQs

Read our studentship FAQs to find out more about applying and funding.

Application deadline

Contact details

Robert Izzard
23 BC 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686602

Studentships at Surrey

We have a wide range of studentship opportunities available.