Big data from single, binary and triple stars

The Astrophysics group at the University of Surrey invites applications for one STFC funded PhD position to start in October 2021 for a period of three years.

Start date
1 October 2021
Three years
Application deadline
Funding information

Funding includes:

  • Full UK/EU Tuition Fee.
  • A stipend of £15,285 for 20/21. This will increase each year in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) rate
  • RTSG of £1,000 p.a.  
  • Personal Computer (provided by the department).

This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding.


The 21st century is where big data meets astronomy. Grand surveys, like ESA's Gaia, provide us with unprecedented data on every type of star in our Galaxy and beyond. Others, like SDSS and Galah, give chemistry: critical evidence that probes their evolution. Others still, like Pan-STARRS, detect transients like supernovae and merging stars. With this information, how do we best link it to our modelling of the stars and hence our understanding of astrophysics?

In Surrey we develop models of not just single, but also binary and triple stars using our binary_c stellar-population nucleosynthesis framework. Recent developments include a standard method for producing stellar population statistics, ready to compare population models directly to Gaia with a Python interface. We lack tools for efficient statistical, quantitatively data comparison. This project will develop these tools, provide them to the community and use them to pin down uncertain processes in stellar evolution, like the all-important common-envelope efficiency that governs the number of type-Ia supernovae and merging neutron-star–black-hole systems.

Project aims: 1) Familiarize with stellar evolution of multiple stars and modelling in binary_c. 2) Make a stellar population model of the stars seen by Gaia. Many suitable ingredients exist, but this is the first attempt with single, binary and triple stars. 3) Selection effects are key and a model for these will be developed and implemented. 4) Quantitatively compare stellar population data to models, varying key uncertain parameters, such as the common-envelope efficiency, pinning down parameters and how they change predicted numbers.

The supervisory team includes Dr. Robert Izzard in Surrey, who leads development of the binary_c population synthesis software; Dr. Denis Erkal in Surrey, an expert in galactic dynamics with first-hand experience of big-data from Gaia; Dr. Douglas Boubert in Oxford, who will advise on selection-effect modelling in Gaia and statistical techniques.

Related links
Astrophysics Research Group

Eligibility criteria

Applicants must have an undergraduate or masters degree in physics, astronomy or astrophysics at the time of start of the PhD.

The post is open to students of any nationality (UK, EU or overseas).

This studentship is for a PhD in the Astrophysics Research Group at the University of Surrey.

Overall IELTS grade of 6.5 or above with a minimum of 6.0 in each individual category, in the last 2 years.

How to apply

Please apply online at the Physics PhD programme page by selecting 'APPLY' and then 'Physics PhD, October 2021'. 

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.