Supernovae are the explosive deaths of stars, occurring at the end of stellar evolution for very massive stars and certain types of binary star system. They are important to a number of modern astrophysical topics: most of the heavy elements are synthesised in supernova explosions, supernovae inject energy and momentum to the interstellar medium and some classes of supernovae can be used as accurate cosmic distance indicators, making it possible to map out the expansion history of the Universe. The current generation of astronomical surveys (including programs led from Queens) are yielding observational data of unprecedented quantity and quality. Thanks to these, we have uncovered a startling array of new and unexpected phenomena in astronomical explosions. These new discoveries can test and challenge our theoretical picture and drive the development and exploration of supernova theory. New types of explosive transients from mergers of degenerate stars have been discovered (e.g. neutron star mergers, gravitational wave sources and white-dwarf black hole mergers). We aim to discovery these unusual objects, understand what chemical elements they produce and what powers their luminosity.
We have two types of project available, supervised jointly by Prof Smartt and Dr Sim. A student can either chose to specialise in theory or observation, or combine the two in a joint project.
Interpreting high-quality observational data requires theoretical modelling. The PhD project will focus on performing radiative transfer simulations to compute synthetic spectra and light curves from explosion models and comparing these to real observational data. A particular focus of our groups' current work is the incorporation of improved atomic physics in currently state-of-the-art simulations in order to achieve the best possible scope for quantitative interpretation of observational data. A student joining our group will learn the physical principles and computational algorithms used in Monte Carlo radiative transfer calculations and will become experienced in running and analysing the results of simulations. Depending on the student's skills/interests, particular projects can focus on a combination/balance of improving the quality of the simulations and modelling of observations. This work will involve participation in international collaborations with theorists (particularly those specialising in thermonuclear supernova explosions) and supernova observers (at Queens and internationally).
We lead several sky survey projects that have uncovered a startling array of new and unexpected phenomena in astronomical explosions: Our project will be based on the discovery analysis, interpretation and modelling of observations of newly-discovered classes of astronomical explosions. Compared to the theoretical project, this will be a more focused on discovery, simulating the surveys that produce the data and rapid identification of new sources in these surveys. Depending on timescales and discoveries, the project may also combine photons with another astrophysical signature - gravitational waves. This will give us insights into the final stages of compact object mergers which in 2017 have been shown to produce remarkably luminous electromagnetic signatures.