PhD Position in the Winds of Hot Massive Stars Through Quantitative UV-Optical Spectroscopy
Catholic University of Leuven Institute of Astronomy

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.


Throughout the Universe, the dynamics and chemical evolution of spiral galaxies like our Milky Way are largely controlled by the lives and deaths of stars with masses many times that of the Sun. The evolution of these massive stars, in turn, is highly regulated by their multiplicity and by the mass and angular momentum exchanged through binary interaction, and by the huge amounts of mass expelled from their surfaces by means of powerful starlight-driven wind outflows. These fundamental properties critically determine how these massive stars live and die and control the nature and properties of the compact remnants – neutron stars and black holes – that are left behind. In close binaries, these compact objects may merge, producing intense bursts of gravitational waves (GW) that can be detected by current interferometers.  In this broad context, various large observational, theoretical and instrumental projects have been undertaken at KU Leuven to obtain new constraints on the evolution of gravitational wave progenitors and to pave the way towards even more sensitive GW observations by future ground-based and spaceborne GW interferometers.

Led by 4 academic members of the Institute of Astronomy at KU Leuven (Decin, Sana, Sundqvist, de Koter), the MAESTRO project aims to fundamentally improve our understanding of the driving mechanism of massive star winds, both hot and cool by bridging the theoretical, computational, and observational KU Leuven’s expertise in the field of stellar winds. Members of  MAESTRO team are heavily involved in the (XSH)ULLYSES collaboration, aiming at further our understanding of hot star winds through the analysis of a large representative sample of UV-optical spectroscopy of massive stars at different metallicity environments. 

The Vacancy

Through an ERC-CoG and other fundings, the KU Leuven Institute of Astrophysics is advertising 4 PhD and 2 Postdoc positions. The selected candidates will join the broad KU Leuven’s effort to unravel the physics and evolution of gravitational wave progenitors as part of an international network of collaborators. The funding for these 6 positions is already secure, but more positions may be available depending on the interest and quality of the applicants, and on the results of upcoming funding applications. Here the MAESTRO-PhD position is described.

The winds of hot massive stars through quantitative UV-optical spectroscopy : The selected PD candidate will join the effort of the MAESTRO team (Decin, Sundqvist, Sana, de Koter) in the analysis and interpretation of high-quality UV and optical observations collected in the framework of the (XSH)-ULLYSES project to characterize atmospheric and wind properties of massive stars in different metallicity environments. The selected candidates will pay particular attention to the surface abundances and the geometrical and dynamical wind properties of these stars using state-of-the-art retrieval methods currently developed at KU Leuven and Amsterdam. The final goal will be to study the morphology and mass-loss evolution of their winds.  Theoretically inclined candidates with interest in developing atmosphere atmosphere models and/or retrieval methods are welcome to apply as well.  


PhD applicants must hold a M.Sc. degree in physics, astrophysics or mathematics or else own an equivalent diploma. The degree must be dated at the latest one month before the position can be taken up. For PhD students. Expertise in astrophysics is an asset but not a requirement. Similarly, prior expertise in massive stars stellar winds, stellar evolution and/or UV or optical spectroscopy is an asset but not a requirement.


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. 


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 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 Prof. dr. Jon Sundqvist, tel.: +32 16 32 70 24, mail: or Prof. dr. Hugues Sana, tel.: +32 16 37 43 61, mail: any other promotor of the project (leen.decin @, The application material should be submitted through the KU Leuven’s Job portal at the latest by April 04, 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
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: April 4, 2021
  • Tags: Natuurkunde en Sterrenkunde

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