Below is an indicative (but incomplete) list of staff research interest and possible bachelor projects within the department of Astrophysics. You are encouraged to email staff members with whom you are interested in doing your bachelor internship, to make an appointment to talk about the possibilities.
Radio detection of cosmic rays at the Pierre Auger observatory
Radio detection of air showers is a new detection technique, established by our group. Our activities include large radio antenna installations at the Pierre Auger observatory for cosmic rays in Argentina. Main science goal is to understand the physics and origin of the highest-energy particles in the Universe. Several student projects are available related to these activities. The scope ranges from improving our understanding of the radio emission in the atmosphere, over the measurement of the properties of cosmic rays to the astrophysical interpretation of the data.
Tidal disruption events
For several decades, astronomers have speculated that a hapless star could wander too close to a super massive black hole (SMBH) and be torn apart by tidal forces. It has only been with the recent advent of numerous wide field transient surveys that such events have been detected in the form of giant-amplitude, luminous flares of electromagnetic radiation from the centers of otherwise quiescent galaxies. The discoveries, spanning the whole electromagnetic spectrum from X-rays, over UV and optical events, to a small number of events launching relativistic radio jets, have caused widespread excitement, as we can use these tidal disruption flares (TDEs) to study the mass of SMBHs in quiescent galaxies, the stellar populations and dynamics in galactic nuclei, the physics of black hole accretion under extreme conditions including the potential to detect relativistic effects near the SMBH, and the physics of radio jet formation and evolution in a pristine environment. In the group of Peter Jonker we work on the optical and X-ray data of tidal disruption event, including fast X-ray transients. The nature of these events is not yet clear, they could be related to intermediate-mass black holes tidally disrupting a compact star such as a white dwarf, or they could be related to merging neutron stars (or the population is a mixture of both).
Contact: Peter Jonker
BSc and MSc projects on star clusters and stellar populations
In the coming years, a wide range of new observational facilities will allow the exploration of the Milky Way and nearby galaxies in unprecedented detail.
The Gaia satellite has already revolutionised the study of stellar populations in the Milky Way, and will soon be complemented by the WEAVE spectroscopic survey which will observe hundreds of thousands of stars in the Galactic halo. On slightly longer time scales, the Euclid mission will provide images that are comparable in sharpness to those of the Hubble Space Telescope but cover a much larger area on the sky (about 15000 square degrees), and in the second half of the 2020s the 39 meter European Extremely Large Telescope is expected to start operations.
In our group we are planning to use these new facilities to learn more about the formation and evolution of galaxies, with a focus on the build-up of chemical elements in galaxies over time. This will be an extension of current work that makes use of the Hubble Space Telescope and 8-10-m class ground-based telescopes such as the ESO Very Large Telescope and Keck to study the chemical composition of stars and stellar clusters in nearby galaxies.
Student projects may involve the development and testing of spectroscopic analysis techniques, analysis of spectroscopic observations and/or high resolution, multi-colour imaging.
Contact: Søren Larsen
Populations of compact objects and related phenomena
Many (high-energy) phenomena are related to binary evolution involving compact objects. This holds for many supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, X-ray binaries and Gravitational Wave sources. We have a global understanding of binary evolution, but it is uncertain in many places, in particular when there is interaction and mass transfer between the stars and in the formation of neutron stars and black holes. In order to reduce the uncertainty, we use the technique to simulate specific (populations) of binaries or phenomena and compare these to Gravitational Wave or Electro-magnetic observations. Projects can be focussed on the simulations, the comparison with observations or the (statistical) framework of this comparison.
Contact: Gijs Nelemans
Protoplanetary disks, exoplanets, and the origin of life
Some of the current big astronomical questions revolve around the origins of life: What are the origins of our solar system? What are the particular conditions that make life possible on a planet, and what is the origin of life as we know it? How did the elements that are needed for life end up on our own young planet? What are the properties of the exoplanets – planets that orbit other stars – of which we now know of more than 4,000? Is life possible on these planets too? This research is multidisciplinary, involving physics and astronomy, chemistry, geology and biology.
Contact: Rens Waters
The magnetic field and interstellar medium in the Milky Way
The Milky Way consists of stars, gas, and dust, but also contains magnetic fields and cosmic rays. These components are all in interaction and all influence each other. At the Radboud astronomy department, we try to observe this magnetic field to characterize its global topology and determine its turbulent properties, and compare these observations of magnetic field models. The observational data we investigate are (a) linearly polarized radio synchrotron emission of cosmic ray electrons circling around Galactic magnetic fields and the Faraday rotation of this emission, and (b) the partial linear polarization that optical starlight attains when propagating through a magnetized, dusty medium. Internship projects in this research direction will focus on one of these observables, the methods or the modelling, depending on a student’s interest
Contact: Marijke Haverkorn
Evolution of low- and intermediate-mass binary systems
Binary evolution produces a wide variety of astrophysical phenomena, including blue stragglers in star clusters, chemically peculiar stars such as barium- and C-rich stars, gravitational wave sources, novae and thermonuclear (type Ia) supernovae as well as other transients. Among low- and intermediate-mass stars, binary interaction most commonly takes place during red giant phases, in particular the asymptotic giant branch. In the research group of Onno Pols we focus on studying the evolutionary connections between the various classes of binaries resulting from such interaction. A central question is why some binaries evolve to very close orbits and even mergers, while others remain fairly wide and eccentric, despite their history of mass transfer and tidal interaction. We use a variety of computational tools to model the evolution of individual binaries and of entire binary populations, as well as hydrodynamical modelling of the mass transfer process. Student projects may focus on particular sub-problems and can involve modelling and/or comparisons with observations.
Contact Onno Pols
The Radboud Radio Lab (RRL, www.radboudradiolab.nl) is part of the department of Astrophysics of Radboud University and its main mission is to develop ground-based and space-based astronomical instrumentation. RRL consists of a team of about 15 top experts with backgrounds in astronomy, electrical engineering, (space) systems engineering, software engineering. The team has expertise on topics like requirements definition, data processing and visualization (VR), prototyping & instrument design, monitoring & control, and algorithm development for many astronomical applications such as (space-based) interferometry.
Currently, the RRL team is involved in the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) that released the first ever historical image of a Black Hole on April 10th, 2019, and is responsible for the Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT) which aims to extend the network of telescopes on the EHT with a telescope in Namibia. RRL is also supporting the commissioning of the BlackGEM array of optical telescopes in Chili, is responsible for the instrument calibration and data exploitation of the RPW radio instrument on the (ESA) Solar Orbiter space mission, is leading the technical efforts for the upgrade (addition radio instruments) of the Pierre Auger observatory, and finally the RRL team is hosting the only low-frequency radio observatory in space, the Netherlands-China Low frequency Explorer (NCLE) on the Chinese Chang’e 4 lunar mission.
Within all of these projects, Bachelor and Master projects can be defined with a scientific, software or technical focus. The student will be supervised by either one or two RRL team members or by one of the staff members in the department of Astrophysics (depending in the focus of the work), but will be part of the RRL team and can use the lab facilities. In addition, RRL is working closely with the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) in student teams on the ESA REXUS rocket launch program. Every year, a new multi-disciplinary RRL student team will be defined to prepare and execute a launch within the ESA REXUS program (and other launch opportunities, e.g. Stratos/TU Delft). The goal of these projects is to design, build and test astronomical instrumentation for space. The student teams need scientists, systems engineers, software- and electrical engineers, project manager and outreach coordinators.
Contacts: Christiaan Brinkerink, Antonio Vecchio.
The ESA REXUS program offers students throughout Europe the opportunity on a regular basis to develop payloads to go onto a sounding rocket. The sounding rocket is launched from Northern Sweden and typically reaches an altitude of ~100 km. The PR3 payload for the REXUS program is developed by a joint Nijmegen-Eindhoven student team, and focuses on tracking the payload using a network of radio ground stations as well as measuring the cosmic ray flux throughout the flight. Both technical development and organizational tasks are primarily executed by students. The team is preparing a second iteration of the student-developed rocket payload to be launched in the REXUS program. The first payload was successfully launched and both experiments are undergoing significant improvements.
Contacts: Christiaan Brinkerink, Sjoerd Timmer