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Microphysics of cloud formation: the path to heterogeneous nucleation (ESR5)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

As result of formation and evolution processes, exoplanets can have hugely different properties. The understanding of these objects is, to a large extent, hampered by clouds obscuring their atmospheres. Clouds play a key role for the atmospheric dynamics and chemistry, as they are important opacity sources and deplete the local gas phase chemistry. In order to understand the myriad of observational data from present (HST, Spitzer) and future space missions (CHEOPS, JWST, Ariel, PLATO), a thorough understanding of the cloud formation processes is required. The process that kicks off the cloud or dust particle formation is the nucleation process by which gas-phase species grow to larger clusters which then grow into condensation seeds.

This project aims to conduct theoretical work on the nucleation process that equally applicable to modelling cloud formation in exoplanets and brown dwarfs, and to dust formation in AGB stars. We will combine computational chemistry calculation with physical cloud formation modelling. This project is part of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) CHAMELEON “Virtual Laboratories for Exoplanets and Planet Forming Disks”. The ITN combines the expertise of eight European research institutes (Universities of St Andrews, Groningen, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Leuven and Antwerp, the Max-Planck Institute in Heidelberg and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research) to cover all relevant aspects for this complex modelling task, joining the expertise in planetary atmospheres and protoplanetary disks, including observation and interpretation. For a complete list of all open PhD positions within this training network please visit

The selected PhD students will be offered a fully funded PhD place at the University of St Andrews’ Centre for Exoplanet Science with training secondment for this position foreseen at the University of Leuven, with additional short training at the University of Copenhagen. The PhD student will receive a double degree from St Andrews and from Leuven. The funding will be commensurate to the standard scale for PhD students in according to the Marie-Curie funding rules. The successful PhD applicants will have to register at, and comply with, the regulations of the St Leonard’s Postgraduate College at the University of St Andrews and the Arenberg Doctoral School of the KU Leuven. The successful PhD applicants will follow a doctoral programme including personal training in management, science communication, and teaching.

We seek an excellent student with a strong background in physics or astrophysics. Successful candidates must hold a Masters degree or equivalent by the starting date of the position. Previous research experience on planet forming disks and/or astrochemistry, and a track record of team work/mobility will be important criteria for the selection. This is a computational project: some prior knowledge of coding would be useful (e.g., Python and Fortran). Note that the general eligibility and mobility rules of Marie Sklodowka-Curie Actions apply.

Funding Notes

CHAMELEON PhD studentships open to any nationality. However, Marie S Curie Actions have two strict eligibility criteria:

1. Applicant must be within the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of their research career (starting from the moment a degree is obtained that gives eligiblity to study for a PhD) and not have a doctoral degree. Adjustments can be made for career breaks.

2. Applicant must not have resided/carried out their main activity (e.g. work/studies) in the country where they have been recruited for more than 12 months in the three years immediately before the recruitment date (PhD start date).

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Physics?
(joint submission with University of Edinburgh)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 36.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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