2018 Research Projects

The History and Evolution of the Universe as Seen with the CMB

Measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) can inform us of the structure, history, and evolution of our Universe. This project will involve calculations to understand what can be learned about cosmic structure formation when combining CMB data with data from other types of measurements, including galaxy surveys. Depending on the student’s interest, the project could be completely theoretical, it could involve data analysis, or it could be a combination of the two.

The project will be supervised by Dr. Alex Van Elgelen, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA).

Algonquin Pulsar VLBI Scnintillometry (NSERC)

The project will analyze radio data of pulsars to utilize the interstellar medium as a giant plasma lens to study the properties of pulsars and space-time to unprecedented precision. The summer project will involve field trips to the Algonquin Radio Telescope to take VLBI measurements simultaneously with other large radio telescopes around the globe.

For more details: http://www.cita.utoronto.ca/~pen/wordpress/algonquin-pulsar-project

The project will be supervised by Prof: Ue-Li Pen

Studying neutron stars with gravitational waves

The recent detection of gravitational waves from a neutron star binary can be used to study the properties of these extreme compact objects. During a binary neutron star coalescence, extreme tidal forces distort the two bodies and result in a complicated gravitational wave signal that depends sensitively on the internal composition of the neutron stars. The goal of this project is to investigate how the various parts of the gravitational wave can be used to determine the properties of neutron stars.

The student will learn about neutron stars, their properties and how these properties can be determined by gravitational waves. They will also gain insight on the statistical methods used to analyze gravitational wave data and how information is extracted and combined with other observations.

The project will be supervised by Katerina Chatziioannou, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA).

Hydrodynamic Simulations of Astrophysical Phenomena

Many astrophysical processes can be described by simple hydrodynamic models, which are still not well understood. These phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, tidal disruption events, asteroid impacts and planetary collisions. The student could choose one phenomenon to focus on, and will explore it by running a state of the art numerical simulation and analysing the data. The student will learn about hydrodynamics, numerical methods, programming, version control and data analysis and visualisation.

The project will be supervised by Almog Yalinewich, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA).

Perturbative descriptions of cosmic structure

The coming decade will see a flood of new measurements of the large-scale clustering of matter in the universe. To harness the full potential of these measurements, our theoretical predictions for cosmic structure must be developed and tested at a high level of precision. This project will involve calculations related to these predictions, making use of the latest developments in cosmological perturbation theory. The project will likely involve a mixture of analytical and numerical calculations, with the student gaining working proficiency in the application of each to cosmology theory and simulations. Familiarity with Mathematica or C coding would be an asset, but is not strictly required.

The project will be supervised by Simon Foreman, Dunlap Institute/Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics (DAA).

High-redshift astrophysics and cosmology with intensity mapping

In the next few years, several line intensity mapping experiments targeting 21 cm, CO, and CII emission will begin to produce observations of the high-redshift universe. By observing fluctuations in line emission over large volumes, these maps will in principle shed light on a wide variety of existing questions, ranging from the nature of the large-scale structure of the universe to the process of star formation within the earliest galaxies. However, many difficulties remain when trying to extract useful astrophysical information from these maps. The student will have the opportunity to learn about a wide range of astronomical and cosmological subjects while creating modelling and analysis tools which will be used in upcoming observations. The precise details of the project can be adjusted to match the student’s interest.

The project will be supervised by Patrick Breysse

Dynamics of binaries in the galactic center

The galactic center is an extreme place for the evolution of binary stars as it hosts a massive black hole (Sag A*) at the center and a nuclear star cluster–en densest stellar environment in our galaxy. These binaries can often collide and lead to transients events, emitted by electromagnetic and/or gravitational waves. I plan to explore how binaries evolve in these environments and how their evolution is related to some of the observed transient phenomena. From the technical side, the student will learn how to run and analyze N-body integrations as well as use semi-analytical approximations that are used in the field of orbital dynamics. From the astrophysical side, the student will learn about the wonders of the galactic center as well as the recent and exciting gravitational wave detections.

The projects will be supervised by Cristobal Petrovich.

Molecular clouds: Where new stars are born

The basics of how a new star is created is conceptually simple. Cold, dense gas gravitationally compresses under its own weight until fusion ignites, generating the energy needed to power a new star. The early phases of star formation, however, are not so well understood. Simulations of the star formation process show that this simple paradigm leaves many questions unanswered, such as how to explain the efficiency and rate at which stars are formed, and the observed distribution of stellar masses. The reality of star formation is that it relies on the interplay of gravity, hydrodynamics, turbulence, magnetic fields and dust. This project will use the high performance hydrodynamics code, Phantom, to model molecular clouds, the environment out of which new stars are formed. This is best suited for a student interested in computational astrophysics. Previous experience in programming would be an asset.

Projects will be supervised by Terrence Tricco.

Applications of gravitational microlensing

When a massive object passes in front of a background star, light from the background star gets bended because of the gravitational potential of the foreground massive object. Similar to the optical lensing, such a gravitational lensing effect can also magnify the brightness of the background star. By monitoring the brightness of the background star, astronomers are able to reveal the existence of the foreground (dark) object as well as its companions. This gravitational microlensing technique has led to the detections of dozens of extra-solar planets with masses down to one Earth mass, as well as hundreds of stellar binaries. In this project, we would like to explore the applications of gravitational microlensing in a few extremes, in particular, the detectability of sub-Earth-mass planets and the detectability of planets in binary systems. From this project the student can learn about the basics of gravitational microlensing, statistics of planetary systems, as well as some simple dynamics of triple-object systems.

The project will be supervised by Wei Zhu.

What does the chemical composition of planets tell us about their formation?

This is a flexible project dealing mainly with planets formation theory, a set of physical models trying to explain how does planets form and acquire their properties. The central idea behind this work is to use the chemical composition (elemental Carbon, Oxygen, deuterium, etc. abundances) as an indicator for the planets formation location and processes. These indicators are highly sensitive to the local physical properties (temperature, pressure etc.) of specific location where the planet formed, and could provide valuable information about planets (and smaller bodies like comets) formation. The project can deal with either solar system giant planets, exoplanets orbiting other stars, or the solar system small bodies (comets, asteroids) and will consist mainly of theoretical studies and computer simulations.

The project will be supervised by Mohamad Ali-Dib.


Extragalactic Radio Sources from a Deep Low Frequency Field

It is only more recently with upgraded or new telescopes and deep survey data that we have begun to open up the low frequency sky and probe to new depths. What is the nature of extragalactic low-frequency radio sources? How many are there? How bright are they? Are they normal star-forming galaxies or active galactic nuclei (AGN) with radio jets or lobes? How do these sources at low radio frequencies (~hundreds of MHz) compare to higher frequencies (GHz)?

This project involves using new data at 325 MHz from the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in a region of sky known as the Lockman Hole. This is some of the deepest data available at/near this frequency and overlaps a region a sky with some of the deepest data from the Very Large Array (VLA) at 3 GHz (along with other available data at intermittent radio frequencies and other wavebands). The idea is to find all of the potential sources and fit for their sizes and brightness (i.e. make a catalogue), cross match this data with that from the other frequencies, find the spectral indices of these galaxies (or how the brightness changes with frequency), classify the sources by type (star-forming or AGN), and also find multi-component sources (AGN with a core and jets or lobes).

For this summer project, students will gain experience working on/analyzing radio images, Gaussian fitting, cross matching, and more. It is a good introduction to extragalactic radio astronomy and deep field work.

The projects will be supervised by Dunlap Fellow Dr. Tessa Vernstorm.


Extreme pulsations in Jupiters (NSERC)

We would like to simulate a large amplitude pulsation in jovian planets that are tidally interacting with their host stars. The goal is trying to understand how the orbits of these planets can evolve when they come into close range with the stars. This may help explain the observed population of extra-solar planets called ‘hot Jupiters’.

Projects will be supervised by Prof. Yanqin Wu, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Multi-Wavelength Classification using Machine Learning in Python and TensorFlow

This project will employ two students. They will utilize supervised classification machine learning techniques to identify extragalactic sources of optical and radio emission. Potential datasets include optical catalogs from the upcoming Pan-STARRS1 Data Release 2, simulated optical data from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope PLAsTiCC data challenge, and radio data from the Algonquin Radio Observatory. The students will use the scikit-learn Python module and TensorFlow software library on the SOSCIP GPU Accelerated Platform.

The project will be supervised by Post Doctoral Fellow Tina Peters and Prof. Renée Hložek, Dunlap Institute.


Galactic dynamics with Gaia

The ESA satellite mission Gaia is measuring the distances and velocities of more than one billion stars in the Milky Way. This data set, which will be first released in April 2018, will provide a treasure trove of information about the structure of our Galaxy and how it formed and evolved. Gaia only provides a snapshot of what the Milky Way looks like at one time, but we can evolve the trajectories of stars in time using Newton’s laws to bring the Milky Way to life. The goal of this project is to use fast methods to quickly compute orbits of millions of stars in Gaia, explore methods for characterizing the uncertainty in these orbits due to observational noise, and to search this big data set for interesting and unexpected patterns. Prior knowledge of Python is required for this project.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Jo Bovy, Dunlap Institute/DAA.

Revealing the Milky Way with Gaia

In April 2018, the European Space Agency’s satellite, Gaia, will provide positions, distances and velocities for around 1.5 billion stars in the Milky Way. This is a massive step up in the quantity and quality of data about the stars which make up the Galaxy we live in. This project will focus on scientific analysis of the Gaia data, with some flexibility in the exact topic of research. Some prior knowledge of programming (especially in python) would be beneficial.

The project will be supervised by Jason Hunt, Dunlap Fellow.


The evolution of cluster galaxies across 6 billion years (NSERC)

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the Universe, and offer a unique chance to probe the evolution of galaxies in their most extreme environment. We are involved in a number of large international collaborations with data from optical to far-infrared wavelengths from telescopes such as HST, Gemini, CFHT, Subaru. Combined, these surveys have discovered thousands of galaxy clusters from the present day up to high redshift.

Various projects dealing with the evolution of galaxy populations within clusters are available using these large datasets for the SURP program. An example is the measurement of the preferred orientation of Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCGs) with their parent galaxy clusters and whether this alignment evolves over time, as predicted in ΛCDM Universe via hierarchical structure formation. Another project involves detecting extreme galaxies such as Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) in galaxy clusters across a wide redshift range, exploring the connection between galaxy evolution and high-density environments at a previously unconstrained epoch.

The summer research student will develop key STEM skills such as efficiently processing large datasets; gain familiarity with multi-wavelength data from various telescopes and commonly-used astronomy software.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Howard Yee, Lyndsay Old,  and Irene Pintos-Castro


 Supernova remnants at radio wavelengths

Supernova remnants, debris clouds remaining after a stellar explosion, are some of the most extreme environments in the universe. They are important laboratories for understanding cosmic ray acceleration and the role of magnetic fields in the universe. High energy cosmic rays embedded in a magnetic field will emit synchrotron radiation, which dominates at radio wavelengths. This radiation is also polarized, and by studying the polarization we can begin to unravel the magnetic field geometry. In this project the student will analyze radio observations of supernova remnants.

The project will be supervised by Jennifer West, Post Doctoral Fellow, Dunlap Institute.

J West

DMD-based Multi-Object Spectrograph Development

The Multi-object spectrograph (MOS) is one of the most critical instrumentations in the study of galaxy formation and evolution. The Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) has been proposed as a potential piece of technology to develop the MOS upon. DMD can serve as a programmable slit array, which enables the spectrograph to acquire hundreds of objects of interests in the crowded fields simultaneously. Compared to the existing method for MOS, like conventional machined slit masks or large cryogenic slit forming mechanisms, DMD-based MOS can achieve smaller spectrographs with a very low cost. However, sufficient characterization of DMD itself, and further studies on the performance of DMD-MOS is essential for the application of DMD-MOS in astronomy.

We are aiming to complete the DMD-MOS prototype for the 16-in telescope at the University of Toronto in next year. For this summer school period project, students will have the opportunities to experience the critical parts of the project, and will be involved in preliminary researching, designing, and developing the real instrument. Students who are enthusiastic about the development of the instrumentation are highly encouraged to apply.

The project will be supervised by Shaojie Chen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dunlap Institute.

Quasars as probes of galaxy evolution

How do the earliest galaxies come to resemble those we see today? Actively accreting supermassive black holes (quasars) that reside at the center of most galaxies are relatively small on galactic scales but thought to have a big impact on how their host galaxies evolve. The impact of quasars on their host galaxy, known as quasar feedback, would help to establish observed relationships between the properties of supermassive black holes and the galaxies in which they reside and is a necessary prescription in most numerical simulations of galaxy evolution.

You will use observations of luminous quasars that were active at the peak of cosmic star formation (some 10 billion years ago) to explore the relationship between quasars and their host galaxies.  Depending on the interests of the student the project could involve radio or optical data analysis. The student can expect to learn about various aspects of galaxy evolution as well as the interpretation of astronomical data with an emphasis on the physics unveiled by multi-wavelength observations.

The project will be supervised by Rachael Alexandroff, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dunlap Institute.


Cryogenic Testbed Optical Conversion

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) has proven a treasure-trove of cosmological information, both supporting and helping to refine the current LCDM model of cosmology. It’s the oldest light in the Universe, and provides our best window into the workings of the early cosmos. Telescopes mapping the CMB, however, require detectors with exquisite sensitivity, collecting minute amounts of microwave power.

Looking toward future CMB experiments, a host of microwave detection, calibration, and characterization tools are needed. The sub-kelvin test environment in the basement of AB has served as a workhorse facilty testing sophisticated wafers for the 3rd generation camera on the South Pole Telescope, but is currently unable to test optical coupling and performance of detectors.

This project involves retrofitting the Long-Wavelength Lab cryostat with an optical window and filter system, allowing microwave light to be injected for the purpose of testing detectors. The ideal candidate will have mechanical modeling and/or manufacturing experience, and an interest in cryogenics and microwave cosmology.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Keith Vanderlinde, Dunlap Institute

Keith 1

Automating Very-Long Baseline Interferometry

A half-century ago, Canada led the world in radio astronomy, performing the first-ever demonstration of Very-Long Baseline Interferometry, combining signals from distant telescopes to create a single instrument with unprecedented angular resolving power. In recent years, this technique has been re-invigorated, with the deployment of CHIME and the re-commissioning of the Algonquin 46m dish with CHIME receiver technologies.

This project involves gathering data from both of these sites, and establishing a pipeline for correlation of the signals. Following a proof of concept, an automated pipeline will be established, reacting to triggered data dumps from either site. The ideal candidate should have a deep interest in radio astronomical instrumentation, and software signal processing, along with experience in C/C++ and some familiarity with network data transfer protocols.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Keith Vanderlinde, Dunlap Institute.

keith 2


Visualizing CHIME

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is a revolutionary new radio telescope, recently completed outside Penticton, BC. Producing over 14Tb of data every second, it’s a particular challenge to keep on top of the health, status, and performance of the instrument.

This project involves researching, planning, and developing a variety of metrics for data quality and telescope health, and to display them to users in a helpful and easy-to-digest format. The ideal candidate will be interested in radio astronomy & instrumentation, software and signal processing pipelines, and data visualization, while having some experience in a variety of programming languages, from C/C++ to python to JavaScript.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Keith Vanderlinde, Dunlap Institute.

keith 3

Making sense of the dusty, magnetized interstellar medium beyond two dimensions

Using the Herschel and Planck satellites, we have made great progress analyzing the intensity and polarization of thermal emission from cool dust in the interstellar medium (3D). Dust and associated magnetic fields are seen in projection on the sky, lacking distances and the 3D perspective needed for deep understanding. However, this is about to change, a revolution launched by myriad stellar distances and spectra to be delivered by the Gaia satellite (April 2018).  The student researcher will have the opportunity to contribute to the novel insights thus provided for modeling a wide range of phenomena in the ISM, among them polarized thermal emission, extinction, optical and X-ray scattering, and optical circular polarization, toward self-consistent and comprehensive knowledge of the turbulent magnetized ISM in 3D.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Peter Martin, CITA.

High resolution planet formation and SMBH migration on a new supercomputer (NSERC)

Despite rapid progress, exoplanet growth and migration, and supermassive black hole mergers inside protoplanetary and galactic disks, correspondingly, remain the fundamental unknowns in the fields of planetary system origin and binary black hole shrinkage toward a final merger in colliding galaxies. Recent observations revealed a large population of super-Earths and larger planets. To study their origin (mass accretion rate, migration, eccentricity evolution) we will improve the methods of simulation of disk-planet coupling, for instance the traditionally oversimplified treatment of radiative processes and thermodynamics of protoplanetary accretion disks, which cannot correctly predict how fast the embedded planets are growing in a multi-dimensional, optically thick environment. These improvements will also advance the quality of simulations of SMBH-disk interaction. We will develop and employ modern, very high resolution multilevel algorithms of PPM gas dynamics. Technically, this will be made possible by integration of two previously separate multi-platform clusters into one supercomputer designed specifically for planet formation research at the UTSC campus. We will utilize Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors (57 cores) for upper level grid simulation, and fast 6-core CPUs which are more efficient on finer, smaller grids around planet(s) or small black holes. For instance, global simulation of a disk with an Earth-type planet, resolved to the scale of a continent, will be attempted. Important questions such as the persistence of primitive atmosphere, existence and influence on migration modes of small-scale wake vorticity generated by each planet will be addressed: the illustration shows one of such vortices shed by a 5 Earth mass protoplanet, for which two existing hydrocodes recently produced discordant results (Fung, Masset et al 2017). The study will we complemented by analytical comparison of corotational and Lindblad resonant torques.

This is primarily for NSERC students with good grounding in analytics and especially numerics.

The project will be supervised by Pawel Artymowicz (DAA / UTSC Dept. of Physical & Environmental Sciences), CITA.

Tidal dissipation and Habitability

In the search for habitable worlds, planets around M dwarfs are attractive targets given that the habitable zone around these stars are located at short periods. However, it is also true that tidal dissipation would be strong for these planets and it is unclear how this would affect the conditions for habitability including mantle dynamics, presence of magnetic field, orbital evolution, etc. In this project(s) we will study how tidal dissipation affect the properties of rocky planets around M stars, including where tidal dissipation happens within the planet, its extent and effects on internal dynamics. We will improve upon the widely used constant tidal dissipation factor (Q) to include the effects of melting, and rheology.  

There might be more than one project under this theme, so please contact me if you are interested.

The project will be supervised by Diana Valencia, Centre for Planetary Studies.

Study of Young Supernovae and Unusual Optical Transients

Supernovae studies have been central in moving modern astronomy forward, which is best described as “seeding the elements and measuring the Universe.” Young supernovae that are detected within a few hours from the explosion are of particular interest and importance since they have crucial information for how supernovae explode. They are also prime targets for neutrino and/or gravitational wave detection. Using the new KMTNet facility, which provides 24-hour continuous sky coverage with three wide-field telescopes in southern hemisphere, we are now  detecting elusive young supernovae as well as unusual optical transients previously unidentified. This project is to study those young supernovae and optical transients to understand their nature.

The project will be supervised by Dae-Sik Moon, Dunlap Institute/DAA.

Construction and integration of balloon-borne telescopes

Supernovae stuThe Balloon-borne Astrophysics group (Professor Netterfield) has opportunities for a variety of undergraduate positions for the summer of 2018 in the construction and integration of the SuperBIT and Spider balloon-borne telescopes. Opportunities include mechanical and electronic engineering, flight and ground software, construction and debugging, data analysis, and flight observation planning. Experience in any of these areas is a plus, but only interest is required.
Spider is a mm-wave telescope designed to search for the signature of gravitational waves from the epoch of Cosmological Inflation in the early universe. (If you have been following such things, Spider is the sister experiment to BICEPII, but is designed specifically to be able to detect and remove signals from polarized dust). It will make a 3 week flight from Antarctica.
SuperBIT is a wide-field visible/near UV diffraction-limited imaging telescope designed to measure the distribution of dark matter around over 100 massive galaxy clusters through both strong and weak lensing. It will make an overnight test flight in the summer of 2018, and a 100 day flight in 2019.
There are many opportunities on either telescope; the project will be adjusted to fit the interests of the applicant.
For more information about our group, see https://sites.physics.utoronto.ca/barthnetterfield

The project will be supervised by Barth Netterfield, DAA/Dunlap Institute and Johanna Nagy, Dunlap Fellow.