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Star clusters and star-forming clouds: finding order in chaos

   Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy

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  Prof A Whitworth, Dr S Ragan  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

CONTEXT. Interstellar clouds, and the star clusters they spawn, are chaotic systems, due to the non-linearity of the processes that drive their evolution, viz. self-gravity and the various thermal, chemical, radiative and magnetic effects that regulate their dynamics. It is therefore of limited value to simulate in detail a particular region, any more than it would make sense to model the formation of a particular cloud in the sky. Rather one needs statistical descriptors of the observed structures. These can then be used to compare one region with another, and/or with the results of simulations. In this way one can determine whether two observed regions that appear different in detail, are actually very similar. One can also test how well simulations are capturing the processes at work; and devise ways to constrain the intrinsic three-dimensional structures of clusters and clouds from the two-dimensional images we observe.

PROJECT. There are many algorithms for characterising statistically distributions of points (i.e. star clusters) and continuum maps (i.e. dust continuum and molecular-line maps of clouds) in other fields of science. The aim will be to identify and exploit algorithms that can be applied to star clusters and molecular clouds, to develop and refine new algorithms, and apply them to star-forming molecular clouds and young star clusters, so that recent advances in the power of telescopes and in the scope of computer simulations can be more fully exploited and tested by robust inter-comparison.

SKILLS. The student will become expert in handling continuum and point data sets, both from observations and from simulations; in designing, extracting and analysing statistical descriptors of chaotic systems (for example using machine-learning methodologies); and in tackling the inverse problems associated with constraining the three-dimensional structure of an astronomical source that is seen in projection from a single viewpoint. Once acquired, these skills can be applied to a range of other problems in astrophysics, and many can also be applied in other fields like meteorology.


The typical academic requirement is a minimum of a 2:1 a relevant discipline.

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

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

• a personal statement/covering letter

• two references, at least one of which should be academic

• Your degree certificates and transcripts to date (with certified translations if these are not in English).

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

This project is only available to self-funded students, please can you include your funding source in the "Self-Funding" section.

Funding Notes

Please note that bench fees may be charged in addition to tuition fees for this project. This will be confirmed as part of any formal offer for this project.

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