2019 Research Projects

Hunting TESS Single Transit Planets

TESS is finding thousands of nearby transiting planets across nearly the entire sky. The short observing baseline of TESS, however, means most long-period planets will not be detected. A single transit will be observed for approximately a thousand planets, many of which would be excellent targets for atmospheric characterization.  Without subsequent transits observed to determine their orbital ephemerides, the single-transit planets will be difficult to follow-up and confirm. This project will assist in a launching a new survey that uses a ground-based telescope to hunt for the longest period planets TESS will detect. There are opportunities in both instrumentation and in software to produce a pipeline for on-the-fly data reduction and telescope automation. The planned deployment is to a site in New Mexico in early fall 2019.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Carl Ziegler, Dunlap Fellow, and Prof. Suresh Sivanandam, DAA/Dunlap Institute.

Construction and Integration of Balloon-Borne Telescopes

The Balloon-borne Astrophysics group has opportunities for a variety of undergraduate positions in the construction and integration of the SPIDER and SuperBIT balloon-borne telescopes. 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. It will make a 3 week flight from Antarctica in December 2019. 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 2019, and a 100 day science flight in 2020.

Projects 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.
There are many opportunities on either telescope, and 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

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

Exploring the Galaxy with Gaia

The European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite has revolutionized our view of the Milky Way, providing detailed positions and velocities for more than a billion stars in our Galaxy. This is a massive step up in the quantity and quality of data compared with previous Galactic stellar surveys. 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.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Jason Hunt, Dunlap Fellow.

Planetary Collisions

Planets form in accretion discs around stars. When the disc evaporates, theoretical models predict that the remaining planets and protoplanets will be tightly packed and dynamically unstable. As a result, many of those bodies are expected to collide with each other until a stable configuration is reached. In this research we will use a state of the art numerical hydrodynamics simulation to analyse the impact and the resulting shock wave. We will focus on the amount and properties of the ejected material, as well as the mass, momentum and energy imparted on the target. These results are invaluable for the study of planet formation, in particular through the use of n body codes, and comparison with observational data with KEPLER (and possibly with TESS).

In the course of this work the student will learn about:
Shock Physics
Planet Formation
Numerical simulations

This project will be supervised by Dr. Almog Yalinewich, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

Using CMB Cluster Lensing as a Cosmological Probe

Photons of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), light emitted billions of years ago, are gravitationally attracted to galaxies and other structures in the Universe. This effect, called gravitational lensing, can be used to measure the distribution of matter in the Universe and probe diverse physical phenomena, such as the nature of dark matter and gravity. In this project we will look at simulated CMB data to see how well will gravitational lensing of the CMB by galaxy clusters allow us to constrain physics beyond the standard cosmological model. This project provides an opportunity to get a hands-on experience with analyzing simulated data using the programming language python, as well as to become familiar with various aspects of cosmology.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Pavel Motloch, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

Constraining Extra-Solar Planets with Gravitational Microlensing

Gravitational microlensing is an astronomical phenomenon due to the gravitational lens effect.  When a distant star gets sufficiently aligned with a massive foreground object, the gravitational field of the foreground object focuses the light out of the distant star, thus producing a brightened image. Microlensing relies on the gravity rather than the brightness, and thus it can detect extremely faint objects, such as extra-solar planets. So far microlensing is the only technique that can detect exoplanets that are very far away from their host stars, such as Uranus and Neptune. In this project, the student will compute the detection efficiency of microlensing to such planets, and then use this result to constrain the frequency of Uranus-like and Neptune-like planets around other stars.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Wei Zhu, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

The Stability and Observational Signatures of Extended Circumplanetary Ring Systems

I am seeking a student ready to understand the dynamics and observational signatures of astrophysical systems of great interest in the coming years of exoplanetary science: extended circumplanetary ring systems around giant planets. Very similar to the rings around Saturn, a tentative detection of a giant planet’s extended ring system has been made, by observing dips in a star’s light curve as the planet’s rings pass in front of the host star (1 SWASP J140747-354542) and our line of sight (Mamajek et al. 2012). The student of this project will work on understanding the stability and observational signatures of these extreme astrophysical systems. Not only will the student do theoretical work important to the field of exoplanetary science, but will also learn analytical and numerical skills valuable to many other areas of astrophysics, and will look good on an application for graduate studies.

More Info: https://sites.google.com/cornell.edu/jjzanazzi/

This project will be supervised by Dr. J. J. Zanazzi, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow

Black Holes in the Center of Our Galaxy

The galactic center is a special place in our galaxy as it hosts a massive black hole (Sag A*) and a nuclear star cluster—the densest stellar environment. The orbital evolution of binary black holes is unlike other parts of the galaxy and can often lead to mergers, emitting significant radiation of gravitational waves. For this project, the student will explore the dynamical evolution of binary black holes in galactic centers and gauge its relevance at producing sources of gravitational wave emission like those recently detected by LIGO/Virgo. 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 and gravitational wave astronomy.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Cristobal Petrovich, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

Radio Polarimetry as a Probe of Galactic Magnetism

The interstellar medium of galaxies is threaded with magnetic fields, which play an important dynamical role in many astrophysical processes. There is still much that is not understood about galactic magnetic fields, particularly their structure on smaller scales, the mechanisms that generate and maintain the magnetic fields, and their non-linear interactions with material in the interstellar medium. Galactic magnetic fields can be probed through a few different processes, including the polarization of radio waves, which can give us information about the magnetic fields both at the radio source (synchrotron emission) as well as along the the line of sight between the source and the observer (Faraday rotation).
The project will involve the analysis and/or simulation of radio polarization data, to study magnetic fields in our Galaxy or other radio galaxies, and will likely be using fresh-off-the-telescope data from the Very Large Array or the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Cameron Van Eck, Dunlap Research Associate.

Tidal Disruption Event and Debris Disks (NSERC preferred)

We will investigate how a dusty debris disk around stars can be produced when a planetary object is tidally destroyed.

This project will be supervised by Prof. Yanqin Wu, DAA.

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 Dr. Jennifer West, Dunlap Research Associate.


Studying Fast Radio Bursts and Pulsars with CHIME data

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is a revolutionary new radio telescope, recently completed outside Penticton, BC. Already in the first months of commissioning, CHIME is discovering many new Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), and this discovery rate is expected to keep course if not further increase. CHIME has brought about a new landscape in the FRB field; and the current challenge is that all these interesting detections will need to be systematically followed up, verified and characterized in an automated manner. Improvement in the candidate follow-up pipeline can maximize our chance of recovering even the weakest burst signals. In parallel, CHIME is monitoring over 500 known pulsars with an unprecedentedly high cadence. This is a valuable data set for studying temporal variations in pulsars, such as nulling, mode changing and giant pulse, which could contribute to a better understand of the emission mechanism of neutron stars.

There are many opportunities and potential projects using CHIME FRB/Pulsar data, including software and signal processing pipelines, data analysis and visualization, as well as transient astrophysics. The project can be adjusted to fit the interest and skill set of the applicant. As part of CHIME, students will also experience collaborative research environment through weekly interactions with members from other institutions. Students interested in radio signal processing are encouraged to apply. Familiarity with programming would be an asset.

The project will be supervised by Dr. Cherry Ng, Dunlap Postdoctoral Fellow.

Studying Star Clusters in the Golden Age of Gaia (NSERC only)

With the second data release from the European Space Agency’s Gaia Satellite (Gaia DR2), astronomers now have access to a massive dataset containing the positions and proper motions of over a billion stars in the Milky Way. A significant fraction of these stars can be found in star clusters (see Figure 1), massive spherical collections of gravitationally bound stars orbiting in the potential of the Milky Way. For the first time, thanks to Gaia DR2, it is now
possible to generate 6 dimensional models of individual star clusters, which can then be used to study how clusters and their host galaxies form and evolve.

The proposed research project makes use of Gaia DR2 to study the structural and kinematic properties of nearby star clusters. Measurements of a cluster’s density, velocity dispersion and rotation profile will allow for constraints to be placed on the cluster’s dynamical history and its local environment. More specifically, it will be possible to measure the Milky Way’s gravitational field around individual star clusters (including dark matter) and estimate each cluster’s properties at formation given their dynamical age.

This project will be supervised by Prof. Jo Bovy, DAA/Dunlap Institute, and Dr. Jeremy Webb, DAA Postdoctoral Fellow.  Please note this project is only available to NSERC students

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.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Alex van Engelen, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

Data-Driven Theoretical Cosmology

The coming decade will see a flood of new measurements of the cosmic microwave background, galaxy clustering, and gravitational lensing, along with active planning for future generations of experiments. This project will involve calculations related to innovative uses of upcoming measurements or potential science cases for new experiments. 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 programming in C, Python, or Mathematica would be an asset, but is not strictly required.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Simon Foreman, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

Metastable Vacuum Decay in Time-Dependent Backgrounds

This project will explore the decay of metastable field configurations induced by the presence of quantum fluctuations, so called false vacuum decay.  The decay proceeds via the nucleation, expansion and subsequent coalescence of bubbles of a new phase, similar to a pot of water boiling. These transitions play a crucial role in modern theories of the early Universe based on false vacuum eternal inflation, as well as those featuring spontaneous symmetry breaking at higher energies as in grand unified theories (GUTs).  The project will explore the real-time dynamics of the decay process in some models of interest in early Universe cosmology.

The student will obtain a background in nonequilibrium quantum field theory, including nonperturbative and nonlinear effects.  They will also develop skills in writing scientific code based on advanced numerical algorithms for solving PDEs. Depending on the student’s interests, the project can be more theoretically oriented obtaining general formalism from first principles, or more computationally oriented where the consequences in a specific model are explored in detail.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Jonathan Braden, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

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.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Patrick Breysse, CITA Postdoctoral Fellow.

Classifying Fast Radio Bursts in Real Time (NSERC Preferred)

Can we classify bright radio bursts in the sky? The student will generate simulated data with Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), pulsars, and noise similar to that which would be detected by the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO), using existing simulation code.Utilizing the SOSCIP GPU Accelerated Platform and a neural net developed with the TensorFlow software library, the student will work to accurately classify the FRBs, and develop a real-time classification pipeline. The goal for the final result is to scale up to the data generation rate of the ARO.

This project will be supervised by Prof. Renee Hlozek, DAA/Dunlap Institute, and Dr. Tina Peters, Dunlap Postdoctoral Fellow.

Predict when Type Ia Supernovae will be Brightest (NSERC Preferred)

Can we predict how bright a supernova will be from only its first few data points, and thereby classify different bright objects in the sky? The student will use photometric Ia supernovae lightcurves from simulated Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) lightcurves to identify features that can predict how long until a SN will be at its peak magnitude. They will use a subset of the simulations to find the features, then predict the date of peak for the remainder of the simulated SNe. An accurate prediction technique can be used for scheduling follow-up of Ia SNe detected by LSST.

This project will be supervised by Prof. Renee Hlozek, DAA/Dunlap Institute, and Dr. Tina Peters, Dunlap Postdoctoral Fellow.

Solving the Universe with the World’s Most Insanely Cool Wide-Field Survey Telescope

The University of Toronto, Yale and Harvard have together constructed the Dragonfly Telephoto Array (see https://dragonflytelescope.org for details). This telescope is known for a number of interesting discoveries regarding low surface brightness phenomena (faint but big things), and unlike most research telescopes, it is constructed and operated by professors and graduate students who have complete freedom to use it for whatever they want. Since the low surface brightness Universe is very unexplored it is a treasure trove of interesting astrophysics (including ultra-diffuse galaxies, the faint outskirts of galaxies, supernova light echoes, and more). This is your opportunity to join Team Dragonfly over the summer, in order to learn about how cutting-edge telescopes work, to help build one, and use it to do some science!

We need students to:
Help us transition our current control system so that we can run the whole operation using a web browser.
– Write web-based data visualization tools, and also software to test the operation of the array and make it more robust.
– Help program an automated scheduling system to make the operation of the array more sophisticated.
– Help us improve our data analysis pipeline, in particular to add tests to look for moving objects.
– Help manage a big wide-field survey we’re undertaking and take a look at the first data products.

This project will be supervised by Prof. Roberto Abraham, DAA/Dunlap Institute.

(photo credit: Pieter van Dokkum)

Charting the Growth of Galaxies

Galaxies evolve on astronomical timescales of millions or even billions of years. The study of galaxy evolution is therefore based on inferring connections between various galaxy populations across cosmic time. This requires knowledge of galaxy properties, such as redshifts, sizes, stellar masses, ages, and star formation rates. The student will learn how to extract such information from galaxy images and spectra. Driven by the student’s interest, the project will tackle one of the following scientific questions: What triggers or shuts down star formation in galaxies? How do active black holes affect galaxies? What happens to galaxies when they collide with each other?

The student will acquire skills on using Python to handle large catalogs and datasets, to visualize and to present findings. These skills are relevant for future research projects on a variety of astrophysical topics not limited to galaxies, as well as beyond academia.

This project will be supervised by Dr. Allison Man, Dunlap Fellow.

Gemini Infrared Multi-Object Spectrograph (GIRMOS)

The Dunlap Institute is leading the construction of a cutting-edge major scientific instrument for the 8-meter Gemini observatory, accessible by all Canadian astronomers. This instrument makes use of the latest developments in adaptive optics and infrared imaging spectroscopy to provide high resolution spatial and spectral information of astrophysical sources. These innovations enable scientific programs that range from searching for intermediate mass black holes in our Milky Way’s globular clusters to measuring the kinematics, structure, and star forming properties of high-redshift galaxies. Students will be directly involved in the design and development of hardware and/or scientific programs for this instrument.

This project will be supervised by Prof. Suresh Sivanandam (DAA/Dunlap Institute), the principal investigator of GIRMOS, and Dr. Masen Lamb, Dunlap Fellow.

Algonquin Pulsar VLBI Scintillometry

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 see:  http://www.cita.utoronto.ca/~pen/wordpress/algonquin-pulsar-project

This project will be supervised by Prof. Ue-Li Pen, CITA

Composition of mini-Neptunes and Super-Earths

The TESS space mission was launched last April and is mapping the nearest stars in search for super-Earths and mini-Neptunes (planets with masses 1-10 earth-masses and radii 1-2 earth-radii). TESS will measure the radius of hundreds of these planets in the next 3 years, and follow up missions like NIRPS and SPIROU will measure the mass. With both quantities we can infer the composition of these planets and answer question about their nature and origin. This is particularly exciting as these are the most common planets in our Galaxy while there are none in our Solar System.   

As a summer research assistant the student will provide support to the NIRPS and SPIROU missions by running a grid of internal structure models to couple mass, radius and composition for these low-mass exoplanets. This will provide the backbone for the data interpretation. Responsibilities may also include being part of the NIRPS team weekly calls and see what happens behind the scenes. 
Projects in my group are suitable for 3rd year students familiar with programming (Preferred languages are Python,  Fortran is a plus). Some knowledge of statistics is preferred but not required. This project will be supervised by Prof. Diana Valencia, DAA.