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Building monsters; gas and star formation in the extreme environments around black holes

Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy

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Dr T Davis , Dr MW Smith No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Cardiff United Kingdom Astrophysics Data Analysis

About the Project

Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) are powered by the accretion of material onto supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies. In the current paradigm for galaxy evolution the presence of an active black hole represents an important phase in the life of a galaxy. The enormous energy released by AGN accretion may couple to the interstellar medium, drive large outflows, and help build bulges which can alter the conditions for star formation in their host galaxies. Although AGN have been studied for many decades, the physical mechanisms that drive these processes are still not understood. This project aims to do this using very high-resolution observations to resolve the structure and kinematics of clouds of gas orbiting (or being ejected from) supermassive black holes in nearby galaxies. The PhD student will join an international team of astronomers, lead from Cardiff, and will use data from state-of-the-art telescopes (the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array, the Very Large Array, the IRAM-30m, APEX, the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope). She/he will have the opportunity to use these data to probe the breakdown of star-formation laws in the bulge regions around black holes, study the structure of nuclear accretion disks/molecular torii and/or estimate supermassive black hole masses. This will allow them to build a holistic picture of host galaxy-AGN interaction and how this affects the AGN cycle of fuelling and feedback.

This project will be funded by the STFC.
Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Physics and Astronomy with a start date of 1st October 2021.

How to Apply:

Applicants should submit an application for postgraduate study via the Cardiff University webpages ( including:

• an upload of your CV
• a personal statement/covering letter
• two references
• Current academic transcripts

Applicants should select Doctor of Philosophy, with a start date of October 2021.

In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project. If you are applying for more than one project, please list the individual titles of the projects in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select ’I will be applying for a scholarship/grant’ and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from the STFC. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend an interview in February.

Entry requirements:

Candidates should have obtained, or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree in Physics, or a related subject, Alternatively, applicants with equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK will also be considered. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree.

Applicants whose first language is not English are normally expected to meet the minimum University requirements (e.g. 6.5 IELTS)
Please see our English Language Requirements guidance ( for more details.

Funding Notes

This research project is one of a number of projects in the Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy. It is in competition for STFC funding with one or more of these projects.

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 fun


T. A. Davis et al. 2013, “A black-hole mass measurement from molecular gas kinematics in NGC4526”,
Nature, 2013, 494, 328-330 (

E. V. North et al. 2019, “WISDOM project - V. Resolving molecular gas in Keplerian rotation around the supermassive black hole in NGC 0383”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 490, Issue 1, p.319-330 (

B. Husemann et al. 2019, “The Close AGN Reference Survey (CARS). A massive multi-phase outflow impacting the edge-on galaxy HE 1353-1917”, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Volume 627, A53, p. 28. (
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