PhD Position in Binary Evolution in the Context of the Einstein Telescope
Catholic University of Leuven Institute of Astronomy
Belgium

The Institute of Astronomy (IoA) of KU Leuven is a young and vibrant research group of some 80 scientists, engineers, and administrative staff, including 6 full-time and 3 part-time professors. The institute is an expertise centre in stellar physics and astrophysical instrumentation, and is active in several international consortia and collaborations, involving telescopes at observatories worldwide and in space. Members of IoA have access to parallel computing facilities at the Flemish Supercomputer Centre. The IoA is responsible for the organisation of the Master of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Advanced Master of Space Studies of the Faculty of Science, and operates the 1.2m Mercator telescope at Roque de los Muchachos, La Palma Observatory, Canary Islands. The institute has a long tradition in instrumental, observational, and theoretical studies of stellar evolution. The KU Leuven’s Gravitational Wave Centre is a research initiative aimed at investigating the implications of recent advances in theoretical high-energy physics for gravitational wave observations and astrophysics more generally. The Centre also acts as a platform to strengthen and coordinate nationwide collaboration on gravitational wave science for Belgium’s participation in the LISA mission and the Einstein Telesope ground-based observatory exploring the gravitational universe.

Project

ETpathfinder & Gravitational Wave science and engineering in Flanders

The discovery of gravitational waves (GW) from merging black holes and neutron stars by Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo marked the beginning of a new era in observing our universe and scientists are keen to fully open up this new window to the (dark side of the) cosmos. The future Einstein Telescope (ET) will detect several 100 000 gravitational wave signals per year, allowing us to study the merging or the birth of black holes, and the precise structure of neutron stars or of the universe immediately after the Big Bang. Using advanced laser-interferometry, ET will achieve an incredible accuracy. To develop and test the new and unique technologies required by ET, scientists and engineers from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France are setting up a joint R&D facility: ETpathfinder. To tackle the numerous scientific and technological challenges in the broad field of GW observations, physics and engineering research teams at 4 Flemish universities (KU Leuven, Ghent University, University of Antwerp & VUB) have joined forces to setup a multi-disciplinary synergetic research environment: the Flemish Gravitational Wave Consortium (GWC – Flanders).

The Vacancy

The goal of this PhD project is to investigate the evolution of massive stars along their path to become gravitational wave sources. Specifically, and under the supervision of Prof. Hugues Sana and dr. Pablo Marchant (KU Leuven) and of Prof. Gijs Nelemans (Nijmegen/KUL), the selected PhD candidate will work with binary evolution models and population synthesis codes to estimate the impact of binary evolution physics of the prediction of gravitational wave signals that will be detected by the Einstein Telescope and, vice versa, to investigate which physics can be constrained by the ET detections. The selected candidate will leverage KU Leuven’s large ongoing observational and theoretical efforts to alleviate some of the main uncertainties impacting the sub-grid stellar physics relevant for realistic stellar population synthesis computations: internal mixing processes, stellar winds, massive stars multiplicity, and the initial conditions of massive star evolution across the entire parameter space relevant for GW progenitors.While the PhD candidate will initially be based at KU Leuven, several short stays and/or a long-term visit to Nijmegen to work in close collaboration with Prof. Neelemes are expected. The timing and duration of these visits will be determined according to the progress of the project. 

Profile

The applicant must hold a M.Sc. degree in physics, astrophysics, computer science or engineering (or equivalent). The degree must be dated at the latest one month before the position can be taken up. Expertise in stellar physics, massive stars, binary evolution and population synthesis is an asset but not a requirement. Similarly, experience with code development and programming languages (Python, C, Fortran) is an asset but not a requirement.  Proficiency in English is mandatory.

Offer

The selected PhD student 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 at KU Leuven; it includes social and medical insurance as well as pension rights. The starting date can be negotiated. The successful PhD applicant will have to register at, and comply with, the regulations of the Arenberg Doctoral School of KU Leuven. Good command of the English language is a requirement. 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 PhD student 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 observing run of 10 nights per year at the Mercator Telescope for the pooled IoA long-term monitoring programmes. 

Interested?

The application package should contain:
  • (i) a curriculum vitae, with a publication list if relevant;
  • (ii) a statement of interest (max. 1 page); 
  • (iii) a summary of previous research experience (e.g., research project and master thesis) max. 3 pages)
  • (iv) a list of all master courses with their number of study points and the individual scores obtained, as well as the yearly averages. 
Applicants must also provide the names and contact details of two references who are prepared to send confidential recommendation letters should they be requested to do so. The selection committee can send out requests for such letters for those applicants on the short-list after an initial ranking. The short-listed applicants will be invited for an interview (live or via videoconference depending on the distance and sanitary conditions).
Further information on the position and on the project may be obtained by contacting the promotor Prof. Hugues Sana and the supervisor dr. Pablo Marchant by email (Hugues.sana@kuleuven.be / Pablo.marchant@kuleuven.be ) or by phone (+32-16-32 33 46). You may also contact Dr. Clio Gielen for questions.  tel.: +32 16 37 46 28, mail: clio.gielen@kuleuven.be.

The application material should be submitted through the KU Leuven’s Job portal at the latest by May 31, 2021. Applications that do not strictly follow the application guidelines may not be properly processed and may therefore be lost. Members of minorities and underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

You can apply for this job no later than April 04, 2021 via the
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.
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: April 4, 2021
  • Tags: Natuurkunde en Sterrenkunde


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