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Exploring the environment of black holes merger and its connection with gravitational waves

Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy

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Dr C Inserra , Prof Stephen Fairhurst No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Cardiff United Kingdom Astrophysics Data Analysis Statistics

About the Project

Core-collapse supernovae are the final, explosive demise of massive stars and are responsible for black hole formation. As a consequence of the prevalence of binarity amongst massive stars, they provide the leading progenitor channel of producing compact object binary systems with two black holes. General Relativity tells us that their binary orbit will shrink owing to energy losses via gravitational-wave (GW) emission. Following this shrinking, during the final few orbits, a prominent gravitational waveform is produced. Mergers of compact binaries therefore represent the true final fates of massive stars. However, unlikely mergers where a neutron star is involved, there is no electromagnetic emission arising from the merger of two black holes due to their intrinsic nature. Hence, any effort to link any gravitational waveform produced by a black holes merger to astrophysical information and/or its progenitor stars has produced null results.

The LIGO/Virgo collaboration has recently entered its third observing season and up to nowadays, they detected more than 20 gravitational wave events from merging binary black hole systems. More will come in the future thanks to the improved sensibility. Cardiff University is full member of the LIGO/Virgo collaboration and has preferential access to the gravitational-wave discovery and their information. Cardiff University is also part of the largest European endeavour in gathering astrophysical information from any compact merger producing GWs (ENGRAVE collaboration). Hence, the PhD student taking up this project will be in a unique position to get the most from two different approaches and collaborations.

The project will focus on the environment of black-hole mergers, which is the only way to retrieve useful astrophysical information from such events. The project will focus on retrieving information on galaxies in the likelihood region of previous GW mergers via electromagnetic spectroscopy (for the distant events) and integral-field spectroscopy (for the closest events). The latter allows for a spatially-resolved investigation of the surrounding stellar populations and provide constraints on the formation scenario of the binary and the 3D position of the merger in the galaxy harbouring the gravitational-wave event. Machine learning approaches will then be used to retrieve any link between the environmental information and those retrieved from the waveform. If the dataset will be rich enough, an Artificial intelligence algorithm can be built to predict what kind of galaxy will likely be the host of future, far black hole mergers.

In this project, the PhD student will gather knowledge of GW physics, astrophysics of galaxies and stellar evolution. From the computational side, the student will acquire programming skills in python and machine learning techniques and environments. Experience in observational astronomy and statistics are ‘de facto’ outcomes of such project.

The UKRI CDT in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Advanced Computing (AIMLAC) aims at forming the next generation of AI innovators across a broad range of STEMM disciplines. The CDT provides advanced multi-disciplinary training in an inclusive, caring and open environment that nurture each individual student to achieve their full potential. Applications are encouraged from candidates from a diverse background that can positively contribute to the future of our society.


The typical academic requirement is a minimum of a 2:1 undergraduate degree in biological and health sciences; mathematics and computer science; physics and astronomy or a relevant discipline.  Candidates should be interested in AI and big data challenges, and in (at least) one of the three research themes. You should have an aptitude and ability in computational thinking and methods (as evidenced by a degree in physics and astronomy, medical science, computer science, or mathematics, for instance) including the ability to write software (or willingness to learn it). 

Applicants whose first language is not English are normally expected to meet the minimum University requirements (e.g. 6.5 IELTS) (

To apply, please visit the CDT website and follow the instructions 

Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Physics and Astronomy with a start date of 1st October 2021.

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

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’.

To complete your application please email a pdf(s) of your application to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) fully-funded scholarships cover the full cost of tuition fees, a UKRI standard stipend of £15,285 per annum and additional funding for training, research and conference expenses.
The scholarships are open to UK/home and international candidates.
For general enquiries, please contact Rhian Melita Morris: [Email Address Removed]


The Environment of the Binary Neutron Star Merger GW170817 - The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 848, Issue 2, article id. L28, 9 pp. (2017)

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