Revealing the Hidden Light: Understanding the cosmic dust and cold gas in nearby galaxies.

   Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Over half the light ever emitted by stars in the Universe having been absorbed by cosmic dust, and the situation is worse (>90%) when looking at regions where star-formation is occurring. Luckily, the dust re-emits the energy absorbed in the far-infrared/sub-millimetre, and so by observing in these wavelengths we can understand these cold dense regions where stars are born.

 Our group in Cardiff is leading several international teams to obtain some of the first ground-based sub-millimetre maps of local group and nearby galaxies. Ground based observations are crucial due to the much better resolution and long wavelength coverage. The student will become an active member of several international teams, getting the opportunity to work with researches across the globe. These teams include the HASHTAG, DOWSING teams using the James Clark Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii, the IMEGIN team using IRAM in Spain, and the MUSCAT team using the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) in Mexico.

The project will investigate the interplay between the cosmic dust and the other components of the interstellar medium (e.g., atomic gas, molecular gas, and metallicity). For example, we know dust provides a way to measure the ‘dark gas’ in galaxies and is a way to measure the physical conditions in the interstellar medium. However, very little quantitative analysis has been done extra-galactically due to previous limits on resolution. We also know relatively little about the dust itself, and our recent work discovered that the dust’s properties vary significantly across a galaxy. In this project the student will help develop new analysis tools to maximise the information from our observations (for example high-resolution SED-fitters, and hierarchical Bayesian fitting), and applying these techniques to our new high-resolution datasets.

 We will then study the interstellar medium and star formation on the scale of individual giant molecular clouds. This includes investigating what is causing changes in the cosmic dust, the amount of dark gas, and what is heating the dust. We will then look at what regulates the star-formation process in galaxies. Whether it’s dominated by local properties (e.g., local density or radiation field), or larger-scale properties (e.g, galaxy morphology, disk dynamics). How global galaxy relations, like the correlation between surface-density of star-formation and gas (Schmidt-Kennicutt law), are built from the small scale giant molecular clouds will be investigated.

 During the PhD you will learn key skills in data analysis, machine learning, big data analysis techniques, as well as presentation skills. It is expected that you will have the opportunity to learn hands-on by observing at an international telescope, and participate at international conferences. You will also have access to range of training events both within the department and organised by the University.

 For more information, or if there are any questions, please contact Dr Matthew Smith

The typical academic requirement is a minimum of a 2:1 physics and astronomy or a relevant discipline. 

Applicants whose first language is not English are normally expected to meet the minimum University requirements (e.g. IELTS 6.5 Overall with 5.5 minimum in sub-scores) (

How to apply 

Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Physics and Astronomy. 

Applicants should submit an application for postgraduate study via the Cardiff University webpages ( including: 

• your academic CV 

• Your degree certificates and transcripts to date including certified translations if these are not in English 

• a personal statement/covering letter 

• two references, at least one of which should be academic. Your references can be emailed by the referee to   

Please note: We are do not contact referees directly for references for each applicant due to the volume of applications we receive.     

In the "Research Proposal" section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project.

In the funding section, please select that you will be self-funded or include your own sponsorship or scholarship details.

Once your application is submitted, we will review it and advise you within a few weeks if you have been shortlisted for an interview. 

Computer Science (8) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

This project is offered for self-funded students only, or those with their own sponsorship or scholarship award.


The HASHTAG Project: The First Submillimeter Images of the Andromeda Galaxy from the Ground,
The Dust in M31, Whitworth, A.P, et al. 2019, The star formation law at GMC scales in M33, the Triangulum Galaxy, Williams, T et al. 2018,
The Herschel Exploitation of Local Galaxy Andromeda (HELGA). II. Dust and Gas in Andromeda, Smith, M.W.L, et al. 2012,

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