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  Connecting black hole driven outflows, obscuration and galaxy mergers – A hunt for young accreting black holes

   Department of Physics

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  Dr Carolin Villforth, Prof Stijn Wuyts  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project based in the Astrophysics Group within the Department of Physics and supervised by Dr Carolin Villforth (lead supervisor) and Prof Stijn Wuyts (co-supervisor). 


30 September 2024.

An earlier start date may be possible in agreement with the lead supervisor.


Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) play a central role in galaxy evolution. Accreting SMBHs, also known as Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), emit large amounts of radiation that can impact star formation of galaxies on large scales. This is known as AGN feedback and is required in theoretical models to reproduce the masses of galaxies. Understanding what drives the growth of black holes, as well as pinning down the AGN responsible for feedback, is therefore vital for our understanding of galaxy evolution. A model has emerged in the last decades in which AGN feedback is primarily active in a short phase early in the life of an AGN. This model states that AGN are triggered as galaxies merge, creating an initially heavily obscured AGN. As the accretion rate rises, the AGN drives powerful outflows that shut down both black hole accretion and star formation. This model predicts a very strong connection between heavy obscuration, powerful outflows that drive feedback and mergers of galaxies [see e.g. 1]. Studies have found connections between some of these properties: obscuration and powerful outflows are linked [2], some heavily obscured AGN show strong connections with mergers [3], however, there is no clear picture connecting all three properties [4]. This raises the important questions: what is the connection between heavy obscuration, powerful outflows and mergers of galaxies?

The aim of this PhD project is to study the connection between outflows, obscuration, and mergers jointly for a large sample of AGN. The work will exploit Bath membership in 4MOST, an upcoming spectroscopic survey that will for the first time include large numbers of obscured AGN missing in previous surveys. The project is also well timed to combine work on 4MOST that will give information on outflows and obscuration with upcoming imaging data from the Very Rubin Observatory (VRO) and Euclid that will allow machine learning identification of mergers (see e.g. [5]) for the same objects.

Combining these upcoming datasets (4MOST, VRO) with additional archival datasets such as the spectroscopic survey SDSS that includes unobscured AGN and WISE will allow to constrain the connection between outflows, obscuration, and mergers.


Applicants should have a background in the physical sciences. They should have, or expect to gain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent from an overseas university. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.


Applicants are encouraged to contact the lead supervisor, Dr Carolin Villforth (email: [Email Address Removed]) before applying to find out more about the project and to discuss their suitability for the role.

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Physics.


When completing the application form:

  1. In the Funding your studies section, select ‘STFC’ as the studentship for which you are applying.
  2. In the Your PhD project section, quote the project title of this project and the name of the lead supervisor in the appropriate boxes. 
  3. Should you wish to apply for more than one project at Bath, you may do so within the same application but you should ensure you quote each project title (and the name of the lead supervisor) in order or preference in the appropriate boxes within the Your PhD project section and, IMPORTANTLY, you should upload a separate (clearly labelled) personal statement for each one, outlining your interest and suitability for that particular project. 

Failure to complete the above steps will cause delays in processing your application and may cause you to miss the deadline.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.


We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Physics (29)

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be considered for a 3.5-year studentship from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Funding covers Home tuition fees, stipend (£18,622 per annum, 2023/24 rate) and an allowance for research expenses and conference attendance. International candidates may be considered for a University fee waiver scholarship equal to the difference between the Home and Overseas tuition fee rates for the duration of the STFC studentship. In addition, applications from self-funded students are always welcome.


[1] Hickox & Alexander 2018, ARA&A, 56, 625
[2] Hamann et al. (including Villforth) 2017, MNRAS, 464, 3431
[3] Urrutia, Lacy and Becker, 2008, ApJ, 674, 80
[4] Villforth, 2023, OJAp, 6, 34
[5] Avirett-Mackenzie, Villforth, et al. MNRAS, under review

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