Postgraduate Study

Postgraduate Study

Interested in a PhD in physics? Please talk to us - we are always happy to show people around the group and answer any questions you might have about postgraduate studies. You can contact us using the details at the bottom of the page or talk to our members directly.

Areas of research

The work of the Institute for Gravitational Research is concentrated on analysing gravitational-wave signals, and using these unique observations to discover the properties of black holes, neutron stars and the Universe itself.

The main experimental areas of research are: precision novel interferometric techniques and the development of systems of ultra low mechanical loss for the suspensions of mirror test masses.

The group is also involved in the space-based LISA mission as well as data analysis activities within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

A prospective student could choose to work on one of the following topics:

(Note that these are suggested project topics rather than projects for which a funded Ph.D place is necessarily available and will evolve over time. Please contact the supervisor(s) concerned for details.)

Data analysis - Prof. G. Woan, Prof. M. Hendry, Prof. S. Heng, Dr. C. Berry, Dr. Chris Messenger and Dr. John Veitch

The Crab pulsar and wind nebula in X-ray (blue), and optical (red) (NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.)

Gravitational waves provide a means to observe some of the most extreme objects in the Universe: black holes and neutron stars. We work on analysing gravitational-wave data to discover signals for merging binaries, rotating neutron stars and potentially find unexpected sources, and to infer the properties of the sources we find. We pioneer new computational techniques for these analyses including developing machine learning and stochastic sampling algorithms. Using our rapidly growing set of detections, we use observations to measure the astrophysical properties of the black hole and neutron star populations to uncover how these systems form, we combine observations to measure cosmological parameters such as the expansion rate of the Universe, and we perform precision tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. We are seeking to answer questions which include how do massive stars end their lives, what are neutron stars made of, and how does the Universe evolve?

Materials research - Prof S. Rowan, Prof J. Hough, Prof. G. Hammond, Dr Iain Martin and Dr Ian MacLaren.

Artist's impression of the Advanced LIGO suspension

Studies of the thermo-mechanical and electrical properties of materials such as ultra-pure sapphire and silicon for use as possible ultra-low noise mirror substrates, including investigations of novel properties at cryogenic temperatures and studies of optical coatings. The dissipative properties of these materials and their coatings will limit the sensitivity of future gravitational wave detectors and this research will be targeted at allowing future detectors to 'see' gravitational wave sources in a greater volume of the Universe. This research also has potential spin-offs with application in other areas of astronomical instrumentation such as e.g. the proposed European Extremely Large Telescope.

Interferometry - Prof K. Strain and Prof. E. Oelker

GEO 600

We are developing techniques to control devices under high laser power and to study the influence of quantum effects on measurements of macroscopic objects. There are two interferometer prototype systems in the Institute, enabling the development of novel optical techniques to circumvent quantum limits in the measurement of position. These studies will influence the evolution of next generation detectors, including upgrades to Advanced LIGO.

Optical systems for space based GW detectors - Prof. H. Ward

Artist's impression of the space-based gravitational wave detector LISA

The ESA space-based LISA detector requires high precision interferometry capable of withstanding the rigours of space. The IGR developed and constructed a monolithic optical bench and specialised bonding techniques for the technology demonstrator mission (LISA Pathfinder). A parallel research program is underway to investigate a number of interferometry issues for LISA and work is also in progress to extend the optical assembly techniques developed for Pathfinder for use in the LISA mission.