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Black holes, planets and dynamic accretion discs in astrophysics

Department of Physics and Astronomy

, Wednesday, January 20, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Accretion discs are central to much of astronomy: they are the birth sites of stars and planets, and they surround supermassive black holes in active galaxies and quasars. These discs form when gas moves on orbits around a star or black hole, balancing the central gravitational pull with the centrifugal effect of rotation. Angular momentum is transported outwards by a viscosity, allowing most of the gas to spiral inwards. This process turns gravitational potential energy into light, and is the most efficient way of extracting energy from ordinary matter. In some systems this can be observed across much of the entire visible Universe. Accretion on to supermassive black holes can outshine galaxies and significantly affect the hole’s surroundings through energy and momentum feedback. When we observe these systems they always show complex time variability, and our theoretical models are now starting to produce plausible mechanisms to explain these phenomena.
Observations of accretion discs in stellar and planetary systems are now revealing complex structures that require detailed analytic and numerical models to be fully understood. This project will develop our understanding of these systems through analytical and numerical models of the accretion process, and will utilise the high performance computing (HPC) facilities hosted at Leicester.
The project is supported by a computing time allocation on the national HPC facility DiRAC, and additional funding is currently available through an EU Marie-Curie RISE grant for visits to collaborators in Australia, Chile and the USA.

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject.
The University of Leicester English language (URL:
requirements apply where applicable.

Application advice

To apply please refer to
With your application, please include:
• CV
• Personal statement explaining your interest in the project, your experience and why we should consider you
• Degree Certificates and Transcripts of study already completed and if possible transcript to date of study currently being undertaken
• Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable
• In the reference section please enter the contact details of your two academic referees in the boxes provided or upload letters of reference if already available.
• STFC Research Interests Form 2021, to be completed online at
In the funding section please specify that you wish to be considered for Ref STFC 2021
In the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisors and project title (a proposal is not required)

Project / Funding Enquiries:
Application enquiries to

Funding Notes

This research project is one of a number of projects in the School of Physics. It is in competition for STFC funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding.
This project is eligible for a fully funded STFC studentship which includes :
• A full UK fee waiver for 3.5 years
• An annual tax free stipend of £15,285 (2020/2021)
• Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)
• Conference Fees & UK Fieldwork fund


1. Accretion discs with non-zero central torque; Nixon & Pringle;
2. On the orbital evolution of binaries with circumbinary discs; Heath & Nixon;
3. On the Diversity of Fallback Rates from Tidal Disruption Events with Accurate Stellar Structure; Golightly, Nixon & Coughlin;
4. What is wrong with steady accretion discs?; Nixon & Pringle;
5. The Maximum Mass Solar Nebula and the early formation of planets; Nixon, King & Pringle;

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