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Observables from extreme mass ratio inspirals in the post-LIGO/Virgo era

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 31, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The first detection of gravitational waves (GWs) by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations in 2015 and 2016 have heralded a new era in multi-messenger astrophysics. However, such detections are limited by technological constraints to higher-frequencies of gravitational waves, corresponding to smaller-mass compact binaries with reasonably small orbits. The ESA-NASA Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) observatory will be the successor to LIGO and Virgo, a space-based interferometric triangle of detectors capable of detecting hitherto inaccessible regions of the GW frequency domain, such as ultra-compact binaries, supermassive black-hole (SMBH) binaries, and extreme mass ratio inspirals (EMRIs).

The systems producing GWs and their electromagnetic (EM) counterparts are highly dynamical, and require solving Einstein’s field equations (EFEs) in the time-dependent and nonlinear regime. Proper modelling of such systems requires simultaneously solving the EFEs for the background spacetime (e.g., compact binaries comprising BH, neutron star, white dwarf) along with the general-relativistic magnetohydrodynamical (GRMHD) equations of the accretion flow, and is highly non-trivial.

This project will begin by using GRMHD simulations of a single BH, modelling the effects of tidal disruption events (TDEs) on the observed emission properties, extracting meaningful observational signatures. With this foundation in place the next step will be to investigate the orbit of a low-mass object (e.g., a stellar-mass compact object) around a massive object (e.g., a SMBH) – due to their high mass ratio these binary systems are known as EMRIs. Such EMRI events offer the potential to place stringent constraints on the properties of the central SMBH.

This is a theoretical-numerical project, requiring a strong numerical & computational background, as well as necessitating physical/phenomenological modelling and interpretation of synthetic observables.

Desired Knowledge and Skills

• Undergraduate in physics/astrophysics.
• Strong computational and mathematical skills.


Applications submitted by 31st January 2020 will be given full consideration. We will continue accepting applications until all places are filled. After we receive your application, we will select candidates for interviews. If you are selected, you will be invited for an interview at MSSL. You will have the opportunity to see the laboratory, students' flats and talk to current students. The studentships are for the advertised projects only. In your application, please specify which project you want to apply for.

To apply, please visit the Online Application page, select department of "Space & Climate Physics" and programme type of "Postgraduate Research". After pushing "Search Now" button, select "RRDSPSSING01: Research Degree: Space and Climate Physics" for Full-time or Part-time mode.
Our Online Applications page can be found here:

Entry requirements

An upper second-class Bachelor’s degree, or a second-class Bachelor’s degree together with a Master's degree from a UK university in a relevant subject, or an equivalent overseas qualification.

Students from the UK or those from the EU who meet the residency requirements (3 years' full-time residency in the UK) are potentially eligible for a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) studentship.

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