2 PhD positions in SUPERSTARS-3D project on massive stars – Leuven, Belgium

Posted 1 year ago

Through funding from FWO and ERC-CoG project SUPERSTARS-3D (PI Sundqvist), we advertise 2 PhD positions to join the team of Prof. Jon Sundqvist at the Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium. Selected candidates will also collaborate closely with other teams at KU Leuven as well as with a broad massive-star research community including colleagues spread around the world (e.g., the ULYSSES working-group). We actively support equal opportunities and diversity, and highly encourage female candidates or other minority groups to apply.The Institute of Astronomy (IoA) of KU Leuven (www.ster.kuleuven.be) is a young and vibrant research group of some 90 scientists, engineers, and administrative staff, including 6 full-time and 3 part-time professors. The institute is an expertise center in stellar physics and is active in several international consortia and collaborations. Crucial for this project; all members of IoA have access to parallel and supercomputing facilities. The IoA is further responsible for the organisation of the 2-year Master in Astronomy & Astrophysics of the Faculty of Science and owns the 1.2m Mercator telescope at Roque de los Muchachos, La Palma Observatory, Canary Islands.
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Scientific Context: Observations and theory show that the radiation-dominated atmospheres of massive stars are highly complex, multi-dimensional systems. However, whereas 3D model atmospheres of sun-like stars have already been on the market for a while, for hot, massive stars we still rely solely on results derived from (inadequate?) 1D simulations. This limits our knowledge of the basic physics of massive stars and our capacity to correctly interpret observations, thereby also affecting the large number of astronomical fields that rely on a firm understanding of the massive-star life-cycle. The time is now finally ripe to change this! Specifically, within the project we will develop first 3D unified models of hot, massive stellar atmospheres with winds. These pioneering models have the potential to significantly improve our physical understanding of massive stars, to revolutionize modern analysis and interpretation of massive-star spectra, and also to derive novel constraints on evolution and end-of-life massive-star models.
The central objectives of SUPERSTARS-3D are:
  • Model Development: Improve our current modelling techniques for computational radiation-hydrodynamics in supersonic media, as well as for calculation of synthetic observables by means of 3D radiative transfer. Both of these tasks use methods that are quite general, with applications also well outside the domain of massive stars. Additional components regard implementation of new modules into our general computer-code packages, and efficient merging of the different modeling platforms.
  • Analysis: Calculation and careful analysis of our first-gen 3D hydro-simulations of massive stars in various evolution stages. Using these to compute model spectra, light-curves, and images. Compare to previous results from 1D models. Critically confront with state-of-the-art observational data. Obtain constraints on key parameters. Evaluate results and impacts.


PhD applicants should hold (before start-date of the position) a M.Sc. degree in astrophysics, physics or mathematics or else own an equivalent diploma. Proficiency in English is required for all applicants. Interests in computational (astro)physics and analytic/numerical model-development and computer-coding are general assets. Experience in astrophysical radiative transfer and/or hydrodynamics are additional assets.


The selected PhD students will be offered a 2-year contract, once renewable with 2 more years after positive evaluation. The salary will be commensurate to the standard scale for PhD students in Belgium; it includes social and medical insurance as well as pension rights. The foreseen starting date is October 1st, 2023 but can be negotiated towards earlier or later dates.
The successful PhD applicant will have to register at, and comply with, the regulations of the Arenberg Doctoral School of KU Leuven. The successful PhD applicant will follow a doctoral programme including personal training in management, science communication, and teaching. As part of the doctoral requirements, the students will have to take up a teaching task of at maximum 4 hours per week in one of the Bachelor (in Dutch) or Master (in English) programmes. PhD students at IoA are also required to perform at least one Mercator observing run of 10 nights per year for the pooled IoA long-term monitoring programmes.


The application package should include:
– a curriculum vitae, with a publication list if relevant;
– a statement of interest (max. 1 page);
– a summary of the research experience (max. 1 page text + 1 page figures)
– a list of all master courses with their number of study points and the individual scores obtained as well as the yearly averages.
– the names and contact details of two reference persons who would be prepared to send confidential recommendation letters should they be requested to do so. The selection committee will send out requests for such letters for applicants on the short-list after an initial ranking.
The short-listed applicants will be invited for an interview (to be hold through videoconference or in presence depending on the geographical constraints and sanitary conditions).

For more information please contact Prof. dr. Jon Sundqvist, tel.: +32 16 32 70 24, mail: jon.sundqvist@kuleuven.be or Mrs. Clio Gielen, tel.: +32 16 37 46 28, mail: clio.gielen@kuleuven.be.
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.

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