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What time can tell us about space: Using time-resolved observations of young stars to explore the circumstellar environment beyond what direct resolution can achieve

School of Science and Engineering

Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar Wednesday, June 30, 2021 Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

What happens in the planet-forming region when planets form? How are stars like our Sun formed? Observational answers have to deal with one fact: the highest spatial resolution available nowadays barely traces the location of Jupiter in nearby star-forming regions. Thus to gain information on the tiny scales of stellar radii and the innermost planet-forming regions of disks, indirect methods are required.

Time-resolved observations are one of the best ways to track small scales beyond direct resolution: the orbital period of the disk where close-in planets form span ranges from days to years. Time-resolved data is one of the main drivers of current missions (Kepler, TESS, Gaia) and time-resolved spectroscopy lies behind the confirmation of extrasolar planets. In this project, you will use time-resolved spectroscopy and photometry of young stars to unveil their circumstellar environments, as well as to establish it as a tool to map what happens in the innermost planet-forming regions. The data, which consists of new observations acquired at the Calar Alto Observatory during 2020, and existing archival data, will allow to measure the velocity of the material around the stars, and to detect eclipses or shadows cast onto its surrounding. You will be also involved in the future observations that are required to complete our view of the most interesting systems.

The observations of the innermost part of the disk will allow us to understand how the star and disk are connected and the role of the stellar magnetic field, how accretion onto the star proceeds, and what the general innermost disk structure looks like and can affect the formation and migration of planets.

The project is offered towards a PhD in Physics. It is based on observational astrophysics. Previous astrophysics background will be an advantage.

The student is expected to start by Autumn 2021, but there is flexibility, so an earlier or a later start are also possible.

For more information about the supervisor, please see

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar ().

For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent for non-UK qualifications), and/or a Masters degree in a relevant discipline. For international qualifications, please see equivalent entry requirements here:

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) overall score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in the written component, and not less than 5.5 in any other component). The University of Dundee accepts a variety of equivalent qualifications; please see full details of the University’s English language requirements here:


Step 1: Email Dr Aurora Sicilia-Aguilar () to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Dr Sicilia-Aguilar, formal applications can be made via UCAS Postgraduate. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Physics: Select the start date and study mode (full-time/part-time) agreed with the lead supervisor.


In the ‘provider questions’ section of the application form:

- Write the project title and ‘’ in the ‘if your application is in response to an advertisement’ box;

- Write the lead supervisor’s name and give brief details of your previous contact with them in the ‘previous contact with the University of Dundee’ box.

In the ‘personal statement’ section of the application form, outline your suitability for the project selected.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees, project-specific bench fees and living expenses via external sponsorship or self-funding.


Sicilia-Aguilar et al. 2015,
Sicilia-Aguilar et al. 2020a,
Sicilia-Aguilar et al. 2020b,
A video of a young variable object:
A professional-level talk about what time can tell you about space:

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