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Master Student Projects

Below is an indicative (but incomplete) list of staff research interest and possible master projects within the department of Astrophysics. You are encouraged to email staff members with whom you are interested in doing your master project, to make an appointment to talk about the possibilities.

Collaboration of the Radboud University with the German Max Planck Gesellschaft has resulted in internship opportunities for Radboud students at one of the Max Planck Institutes, for a period of 6 to 12 months. Many of our staff members collaborate with colleagues at one of these institute. Be sure to ask for possibilities if you are interested in an internship in Germany.

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.

A list of previous projects (to illustrate typical topics) is available here: http://particle.astro.ru.nl/goto.html?ea

Contact: Jörg R. Hörandel

idal 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). 
Please contact the supervisor to discuss potential projects. 

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 to discuss potential projects.

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. The project can be focussed on the simulations, the comparison with observations or the (statistical) framework of this comparison.

Contact: Gijs Nelemans

How does the cluster environment  of young stars affect planet formation?

Supervisor: Rens Waters

Project in collaboration with Andrew Winter (Heidelberg), Arjan Bik (Stockholm), Maria Claudia Ramirez (MPIA), and Soeren Larsen (RU).

Stars form in molecular clouds of dense interstellar gas and dust, that become unstable and collapse under the influence of gravity. Stars always form in groups or clusters. In massive, turbulent molecular clouds stellar clusters containing massive stars can form, and because the massive stars in these clusters form quickly their intense radiation and stellar winds can influence the formation of lower mass stars and their nascent planetary systems.  Our own solar system is also believed to have formed as part of a massive star forming region, and it is likely that the majority of currently known exoplanet systems was formed in massive star clusters.

High resolution Images of disks surrounding sun-like stars very close to massive stars show that they are evaporating, and their mass loss rates are so high that they would totally dissipate on a timescale of a few 100.000 years, much shorter than the timescale for gas giant planet formation.  Clearly this would strongly affect the outcome of planet formation! However, when counting the fraction of stars with planet forming disks in clusters, a much longer disk dissipation timescale of a few million years is derived (see figure). This is known as the “disk lifetime paradox” in star clusters. Indeed, disks seem to live a few million years irrespective of the cluster environment they live in, except for the most extreme, so-called “starburst clusters”.

The goal of this project is to study the lifetime of disks surrounding sun-like stars in massive star clusters. We use a sample of clusters with different cluster mass, age, and massive star content. We will use literature data to find the most massive stars in each cluster. For each cluster we want to know the characteristic time-averaged exposure of disks to the far-UV radiation of the massive stars in these clusters. It is important to take into account the cluster dynamics, because stars can cross a cluster on timescales of about 1 million years, and so experience a time variable exposure to the radiation from massive stars in the cluster. We will use dynamical models to calculate a characteristic time-averaged measure of FUV flux exposure of young low mass stars in these clusters.  Do disks evaporate more quickly if always exposed to a strong FUV radiation field? How important is it to have a single, or several massive stars in a cluster? Can we in this way solve the “disk lifetime paradox”?

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 to discuss potential projects.

RADIO LAB (bachelor and master)

The Radboud Radio Lab (RRL, www.radboudradiolab.nl) is part of the department of Astrophysics of Radboud University Nijmegen and its main mission is to develop ground-based and space-based astronomical instrumentation. RRL consists of a team of about 20 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, Périne Wolf.

Event Horizon Imager (

Expanding beyond Earth-based high-resolution mm-wavelength interferometry (such as the Event Horizon Telescope), EHI focuses on space-based interferometry at even higher frequencies and resolutions to study and map the inner accretion flows around supermassive black holes. A big factor in making space-based interferometry successful is highly accurate knowledge of satellite positions and timing. To help reach this high accuracy, the aim of this Master project is to study how we can make use of lower-frequency detections by the system to improve the calibration for the higher-frequency data. This work involves simulating the performance of an interferometric system and a limited amount of satellite orbit simulation, and requires that the candidate has affinity with writing software and scripting tasks. Familiarity with the technique of radio interferometry is a bonus. This project is a chance to get involved with the early stages of the system design for a future space mission that will study the most extreme environments in the universe.

Contact: Christiaan Brinkerink

Solar-Orbiter RPW

The Solar Orbiter (SolO) is an ESA spacecraft launched on 10 February 2020, aiming to perform detailed measurements of the inner heliosphere and close observations of the polar regions of the Sun, which is difficult to do from Earth. The SolO science payload is composed of 10 instruments for both in-situ measurements and remote sensing observations. Among them, the Radio and Plasma Waves (RPW) radio receiver is performing measurements of low frequency electric (quasi-DC to 20 MHz) and magnetic (0.1 Hz to 1 MHz) fields in interplanetary space.
·        Statistical study of type III burst properties (MSc)Solar type III radio bursts are a common type of radio emission observed when energetic electrons, accelerated at the Sun, propagate into interplanetary space. Type III bursts represent an important diagnostic for particle acceleration processes. In this project we propose a statistical analysis of the properties of type III emissions, as measured by RPW, as a function of the distance and latitude from the Sun. In the framework of this project, the student will learn how to handle data from space and she/he will also contribute to the understanding of general properties of solar radio emissions.

·       Development of a numerical code for direction finding on RPW (MSc)

RPW allows to measure the cross-correlation between signal from two different antennas. These measurements represent the basis of the Direction Finding (DF) technique allowing to determine the direction from which the received was transmitted and the position of the source in the sky.

In this project we propose the development of a software for the direction finding for RPW measurements.  In the framework of this project, the student will learn how to handle data from space, how to develop numerical tools for scientific use and will be trained in the use of a technique that can be used for measurements from other radio instruments currently in space (e.g. NCLE).

·        Statistical study of type III burst properties (MScRPW is also sensitive to interplanetary dust particle impacts by measuring the induced voltage when a grain of dust, hitting the satellite at high speed, produces a cloud of ionized particles whose resulting electric charge can be detected. In the solar system, these particles are generated by asteroid collisions or evaporation of comets and are at the origin of the zodiacal light. Particles with size smaller than the wavelength of visible light, called "nanodust", are unable to scatter sunlight efficiently and can only be identified by instruments in space (e.g. electric field receivers, since impacts produce an electric signal proportional to the speed of impact).In this project we propose a study of the properties of the dust grains detected in different regions of interplanetary space by comparing electric power spectral densities measured by RPW, in different positions along the orbit, with theoretical modelling of dust impacts. The purpose of this study is twofold:
1. A deep understanding of the dust spatial distribution in the interplanetary space;
2. Estimate the contribution of the dust to the total mass of the material in interplanetary space.In the framework of this project, the student will learn how to handle data from space, how to develop numerical tools for scientific use and she/he will also contribute to a better understanding of the properties of the nanodust particles in the interplanetary space. 

Contact: Antonio Vecchio

ESA-Rexus program

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.

  • Outreach (not sufficient for a thesis, but could be extracurricular)

The REXUS/PR3 student team is looking for an outreach and online presence representative. It is the task of this student to collect stories of progress and interesting developments within the team and publish them on several social media platforms as well as the blog.

  • Data and Algorithms (MSc)

For the rocket tracking experiment, we are using three radio transmitters in the rocket and several ground stations. By comparing the received phase of the signals at the ground stations, the location of the transmitter can be determined. Part of this project is the development of a data processing and analysis framework. This framework can produce real-time location information of the transmitter during the flight, but it can also be used offline to experiment with different analysis algorithms or simulation parameters. Several algorithms have been proposed to reconstruct the locations of the transmitter in 3d using radio phase measurement data. These algorithms need to be implemented and evaluated. The execution of this project requires some understanding of differential phase measurements.

  • Simulations and Analysis (MSc)

For the rocket tracking experiment, we are using three radio transmitters in the rocket and several ground stations. By comparing the received phase of the signals at the ground stations the location of the transmitter can be determined. Part of this project is the development of a data processing and analysis framework. This framework can produce real-time location information of the transmitter during the flight, but it can also be used offline to experiment with different analysis algorithms or simulation parameters.

To pinpoint the critical experimental parameters (Which ground station placements work well? How strong does our signal need to be? Can we re-acquire a location after a short interruption?), simulations need to be performed. Simulation software needs to be updated and extended to match the current design. The effects of measurement errors in the received signal on the final reconstruction accuracy needs to be evaluated in a full-chain simulation. This includes the transmitter, the radio wave propagation, the receiving antenna system, and the analysis algorithms.

  • Ground Station Validation (MSc., can currently only be partially executed due to COVID measures, suitable as an extracurricular project for now)

For the rocket tracking experiment, we are using three radio transmitters in the rocket and several ground stations. By comparing the received phase of the signals at the ground stations the location of the transmitter can be determined. Part of this project is the development of a data processing and analysis framework. This framework can produce real-time location information of the transmitter during the flight, but it can also be used offline to experiment with different analysis algorithms or simulation parameters.

The ground station hardware is not well-characterized at the moment. In particular, the clock stability of the internal sample clock needs to be measured and it needs to be assessed if clock drift can be compensated for by observing a mutually visible reference beacon. Precision and accuracy of the phase measurement at a single antenna and at a single baseline need to be studied using lab- and possibly field-tests.

Contacts: Christiaan Brinkerink, Sjoerd Timmer