Forming the largest Galactic cores with black hole mergers

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, to work on the topic of the dynamics of Galactic mergers with supermassive black holes.

Start date
1 November 2021
Three years
Application deadline
Funding source
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.


We are looking for an enthusiastic and strongly motivated candidate to work on a computational project in Galactic dynamics. The project will involve state-of-the-art numerical simulations of massive elliptical galaxies hosting a supermassive black hole at the centre. In the standard cosmological model of hierarchical structure formation, galaxies grow through mergers, leading to the formation of tight black hole binaries. These interact with the surrounding stars through close encounters which tend to eject stars from the central region, causing a flattening in the density profile, or core. Recently, very large cores have been detected in some of the most massive galaxies, that can't be readily explained within the standard merging scenario.

In this project, the student will explore novel mechanisms to enlarge galactic cores, including (i) repeated infall of smaller satellite galaxies (ii) interactions between massive infallers hosting a central black hole (iii) the role of gravitational wave recoil following the coalescence of supermassive black holes.

The successful candidate will be trained in numerical simulations of galaxies and the dynamical modelling of supermassive black holes on the University's 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 group at Surrey is diverse and inclusive and we welcome applications from candidates of any gender, ethnicity or background.

Related links
More information about the astrophysics group can be found here

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

Alessia Gualandris
19 BC 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 682888

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