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  A long-term variability study of young stars: Periodicity, hot spots, accretion and early evolution at the time of planet formation

   School of Science and Engineering

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Young stars are variable due to the processes happening on the star and its protoplanetary disk at the time of planet formation. The star-disk connection holds the clues to several open questions including rotational evolution, the origin of our Solar System and the feasibility of habitable planets. Early stellar evolution depends on accretion, angular momentum and mass transport between disk and star (affecting stellar activity), planet formation and migration (linked to accretion), and the cluster environment and structure. The main technical limitation for these studies is the scale: few stellar radii to sub-au are impossible to map even with interferometry.

Time-resolved observations are therefore the only way to access these tiny spatial scales. In this project, we will "use time to map space" in young stars via a variability survey of populous clusters in the Northern Hemisphere in an unprecedented effort to study the properties of thousands stars aged 1-5 Myr using data from the Javalambre telescope and the North-PHASE international legacy project (led by A. Sicilia-Aguilar).

The successful candidate will work on the identification and calibration of the data for different star forming regions, in order to derive a statistical study of the variability properties of the stars in the cluster and their causes (accretion, occultations by the inner disk, hot and cold spots) and how these evolve in few-years timescales. The survey covers 5 years of data, depending on the starting point of the student, 2 or more years of data will be available. The student will derive models to explain the various causes of variability and their dependency on the stellar mass and cluster environment. Possibilities to collaborate with our international partners in the EU and beyond in the North-PHASE project are available through the course of the PhD.

Knowledge of stellar astrophysics and/or star formation as well as Python programming will be appreciated.

Please contact the supervisor ahead of the application to discuss further details.

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar,

For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact

Our research community thrives on the diversity of students and staff which helps to make the University of Dundee a UK university of choice for postgraduate research. We welcome applications from all talented individuals and are committed to widening access to those who have the ability and potential to benefit from higher education.


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent for non-UK qualifications), and/or a Masters degree in a relevant discipline. For international qualifications, please see equivalent entry requirements here:

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) overall score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.5 in reading, listening, speaking or writing). The University of Dundee accepts a variety of equivalent qualifications and alternative ways to demonstrate language proficiency; please see full details of the University’s English language requirements here:


Step 1: Email contact Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar, to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Dr Sicilia-Aguilar, formal applications can be made via our direct application system. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Candidates must apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Physics (3 Year) using our direct application system: apply for a PhD in Physics.

Please select the study mode (full-time/part-time) and start date agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the Research Proposal section, please:

-         Enter the lead supervisor’s name in the ‘proposed supervisor’ box

-         Enter the project title listed at the top of this page in the ‘proposed project title’ box

In the ‘personal statement’ section, please outline your suitability for the project selected.

Physics (29)

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding. If you would like more information regarding potential funding opportunities and eligibility criteria, please contact Dr Sicilia-Aguilar.


[1] "Time-resolved photometry of the young dipper RX J1604.3-2130A. Unveiling the structure and mass transport through the innermost disk", Sicilia-Aguilar et al. 2020, A&A, 633,37,
[2] "The 2014-2017 outburst of the young star ASASSN-13db. A time-resolved picture of a very-low-mass star between EXors and FUors", Sicilia-Aguilar et al. 2017, A&A 607, 127,

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