Dr John Ilee’s PhD projects

Please contact Dr Ilee directly if you are interested in this projects.

Unveiling planet-forming discs with the Square Kilometre Array

Planets are born in discs of dust and gas that surround young stars, but the specific mechanisms that form them remain elusive. The upcoming Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a next generation radio telescope many times more powerful than current instruments, will have the power to ‘unveil’ planet forming discs, observing emission from large dust grains and molecules in their coldest and most dense regions – precisely the locations at which planets are thought to form.

In this project, the successful candidate will combine the latest observations of protoplanetary discs from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) with radiative transfer simulations to understand how the SKA will advance our understanding of planet formation. The project has two main themes, each of which can be explored depending on the interests of the candidate:

1) Growing pebbles into planets: Assembling a young planet involves the growth of micron-sized dust to centimetre sized ‘pebbles’, and the SKA will be uniquely sensitive to emission from these pebbles in protoplanetary discs. Combining hydrodynamic models of protoplanetary discs and growing planets, you will simulate the growth and evolution of dust grains. You will characterise how planets sculpt the distribution of pebbles, and predict how the SKA will observe discs at different evolutionary stages.

2) Pathways of prebiotic molecules to planets: Molecules important for key biological processes here on Earth (‘prebiotic’) are detected throughout interstellar space, but their abundance and distribution in the vicinity of forming planets remains poorly understood. The SKA will operate at wavelengths best suited to observe the largest, most complex molecules. You will add the required physical and chemical processes to astrochemical disc models to reproduce the latest observations of large molecules in discs. Armed with these models, you will predict the optimal targets, molecules and transitions to observe with SKA to uncover the prebiotic content of protoplanetary discs.

The project is suitable for a candidate with interests in either i) simulations and modelling, or ii) astronomical observational data analysis. Experience with programming languages such as Python or FORTRAN would be advantageous.