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Discovering pulsars to perform precision astrophysics

   School of Chemistry

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  Dr R Ferdman  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This PhD project offers a unique opportunity to play an important role in a large international radio astronomy survey collaboration with a proven track record for high-impact pulsar discoveries. The student will collaborate with several of the top scientists in the field.

Pulsars often display outstanding rotational stability, approaching that of atomic clocks over timescales of several years, making them ideal astrophysical probes of extreme conditions; this includes testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as well as various models of ultra-dense nuclear matter and stellar binary evolution. The PALFA (Arecibo Pulsar L-band Feed Array) and GBNCC (Green Bank North Celestial Cap) surveys have each discovered nearly 200 pulsars — the fast-spinning, high magnetic-field neutron-star remnants of supernova explosions — using the 305-m Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and the 100-m Green Bank Observatory (GBO).  A major component of the project will involve novel discovery software and pipeline development that uses machine-learning techniques to classify the high volume of time-series search data collected. The student will also have the opportunity to make several visits to the Jodrell Bank Observatory, a potential visit to the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia, as well as field-specific conferences and student workshops.

The student will play an active part in conducting follow-up confirmation and longer-term observations of discovered pulsars. This includes the use of the GBO and the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, which plays an essential role in regularly monitoring new discoveries. The student will undertake the analysis of several new discoveries, in order to characterising their properties. Several systems will be appropriate for carrying out the aforementioned tests of fundamental theories of physics, as well as furthering our understanding of the pulsar population as a whole, including binary systems and their evolution. This work will include data analysis using established algorithms, as well as the development of code by the student.  

Funding Notes

This PhD project is offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with funding or those applying to funding sources. Details of tuition fees can be found at
A bench fee is also payable on top of the tuition fee to cover specialist equipment or laboratory costs required for the research. Applicants should contact the primary supervisor for further information about the fee associated with the project.


i) Kramer, M., et al. (incl. Ferdman, R.D.) Strong-field Gravity Tests with the Double Pulsar. Physical Reviews X, accepted for publication (13 December)
ii) Haniewicz, H.T., Ferdman, R.D., et al. (2021) Precise mass measurements for the double neutron star system J1829+2456. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 500, 4620
iii) Ferdman, R.D., et al. (2020) Asymmetric mass ratios for bright double neutron-star mergers. Nature, 583, 211
iv) Ferdman, R.D., et al. (2018) The Glitches and Rotational History of the Highly Energetic Young Pulsar PSR J0537–6910. The Astrophysical Journal, 852, 123
10. v) Parent, E., et al. (incl. Ferdman, R.D.) Eight Millisecond Pulsars Discovered in the Arecibo PALFA Survey. The Astrophysical Journal, 886, 148
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