Phd Projects at CAS

PhD projects in the  Max Planck Research Group of Silvia Spezzano

Stars form in dense cores within molecular clouds. All the ingredients that will build-up a planet are present already at this stage, from organic molecules that will build prebiotic material, to the solid that will form the refractory part of the planet. Molecules are unique tracers of the different phases in the formation of stars and planetary systems, and hence provide the chemical link to understand the emergence of life on Earth. Using molecular spectroscopy in the laboratory and in space, my group will follow the chemical link of our astrochemical origins by:

  • studying with unprecedented details the physical structure of starless and pre-stellar cores;
  • using data-science/machine learning tools to study the chemical structure of starless, pre-stellar and protostellar cores;
  • using state-of-the-art laboratory experiments to provide high-resolution spectroscopic data for characterising the chemical budget in all stages of the formation stars and planetary systems, from starless cores to exoplanetary atmospheres.

Research fields for which PhD projects are offered specifically for 2020 include:

The path to molecular complexity in star-forming regions - a laboratory approach

The detection of ions and radicals of complex organic molecules in the interstellar medium (ISM) will put very stringent constraints on a series of interconnected processes like the development of the molecular complexity in the ISM, and the interplay between gas and dust in the formation of complex organic molecules. This is crucial to unveil the complicated interplay between the chemistry happening in the gas phase and on the surface of dust grains, leading to the molecular complexity that we observe in space, and eventually forming the first bricks for the emergence of life. This PhD project will be focused on the spectroscopy of molecules of astrophysical interest, in particular complex organic molecules as well as their radicals and ions. The PhD candidate will have the opportunity to work with several state-of-the-art experiments such as a sub-millimetre free-unit jet (CASJET, see picture below), a discharge absorption cell (CASAC, see picture below), and a chirp-pulsed spectrometer (CAS Labs). The thesis project will be mainly focus on the acquisition and analysis of spectra that will help the identification of new molecules in the ISM. Furthermore, there will be the possibility to participate to the further development of the experiments, as well as work with astronomical data. Supervisor: Dr. S. Spezzano

Techniques applied in the CAS laboratories
Unveiling the chemical structure of star-forming regions with machine learning algorithms

The gas composing the ISM is at the same time the exhaust from old stars and galaxies and the material that feeds the birth and growth of new galaxies, new stars, and eventually new planets. Understanding how the material is inherited and evolves in the process of star and planetary systems formation is crucial to understand the process itself, because the chemical and physical processes in action are deeply interconnected. Dense cores, where stars form, have a relatively high column density of dust, which effectively blocks the ambient radiation in the optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. Thanks to the shielding of dust, molecules can survive, and molecular complexity can be built. This PhD project will be focused on the use of machine learning techniques to exploit large observational datasets and unveil the chemical structure of star-forming regions. The PhD candidate will work with interferometric and single-dish observations of starless, pre-stellar and protostellar cores. Supervisor: Dr. S. Spezzano

PhD projects in the Minerva Fast-Track Group of Elena Redaelli

The general picture of low-mass star formation is believed to be known: molecular clouds fragment into small, dense cores, where protostars can form via gravitational collapse. Material is fed onto the central object through a protoplanetary disc, the birthplace of planets. However, many aspects of this process are still missing an explanation. In this context, molecular lines represent a unique diagnostic tool, since they can be used to trace the chemistry, physical properties and kinematics of star forming regions. My group will hence use these tools to investigate deeply the early stages of star formation, focusing in particular on how they are linked to the more evolved ones. In this context, isotopic ratios in different molecular species can be used to link the pristine composition of star-forming gas with the composition of evolved stellar systems, like our own. Research fields for which PhD projects are offered specifically for 2020 include:

Observational astrochemistry: the initial stages of star formation

The cold interstellar medium (ISM) that constitutes star-forming clouds and cores is formed by gas and dust. The former is formed by molecules, which emit at radio wavelengths due to rotational and ro-vibrational transitions. The solid component, formed by carbon/silicate grains coated with icy mantles, emits in continuum due to thermal radiation typically at far-infrared and millimetre wavelengths. Observing both components provides essential information to retrieve the physical and chemical structure of the ISM, allowing to determine for instance the gas temperature and density. We offer a Ph.D. position in this context. The Ph.D. candidate will work with spectroscopic and continuum data acquired with state-of-the-art radio facilities (both single-dish and interferometric) to investigate the early stages of star formation. The project involves all stages of data acquisition and reduction. Furthermore, collaborations with theoreticians within the CAS group will allow the student to gain familiarity with the theoretical aspects of the field. Supervisor: Dr. Elena Redaelli

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