Dynamics of massive black hole binaries in dense stellar systems

A dual degree in partnership with the University of Milano Bicocca to study the evolution of massive black hole binaries and the generation of gravitational waves

Start date

1 October 2022


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey and University of Milano Bicocca

Funding information

  • Full UK/EU Tuition Fee.
  • A stipend of 16.238,47  euros per year
  • Personal Computer (provided by the department)  
  • Travel expenses up to 1000 euros per year.


We are looking for an enthusiastic and strongly motivated candidate to work on a computational project in Galactic dynamics and the modelling of massive black hole binaries as sources of gravitational waves. Low-frequency gravitational waves (GWs) form when binaries of massive black holes (MBHs) coalesce, providing a new window onto the physics of black hole growth and its connection to galaxy evolution. Mergers of the most massive MBHs are detectable by the Pulsar Timing Array (PTA)  while lower mass ones will be the main target of the Laser Space Interferometer (LISA). There are strong expectations that the PTA will detect the first low-frequency GWs from such mergers in the next few years.

In this project, the student will perform state-of-the-art simulations of mergers of massive, gas poor galaxies hosting central MBHs. Initial conditions will be sampled from cosmological merger trees. They will model the formation and evolution of binaries from pairing to coalescence to infer merger timescales for a range of MBH masses. Assuming different seed and growth models, they will study how MBHs grow and evolve over cosmic time.

The successful candidate will be trained in numerical simulations of galaxies and the dynamical modelling of supermassive black holes on High Performance Computing facilities. We will support development of research skills as well as a suite of transferable skills including leadership, communication and project management.

The astrophysics groups at Surrey and Milano Bicocca are diverse and inclusive and we welcome applications from candidates of any gender, ethnicity or background.

Related links

Astrophysics Research Group

Additional notes

As part of the dual degree, the candidate will spend equal time at the two institutions and will be a member of both research groups.

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 UK and EU students only.

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

Applications should be submitted via the University’s of Milano Bicocca’s call page by clicking on Online Application Guide. Please start the application process well in advance of the deadline and state the studentship title.

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Application deadline

Contact details

Alessia Gualandris
19 BC 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 682888
E-mail: a.gualandris@surrey.ac.uk

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