Astronomy and Astrophysics

Astronomy and Astrophysics


Study Astronomy and Astrophysics at Macquarie University

Why undertake your higher degree focused in Astronomy and Astrophysics at Macquarie University?

We are a group of enthusiastic and active researchers making discoveries in a broad range of astrophysical disciplines, from star and planet formation, to stellar evolution, to the formation and evolution of galaxies. We offer excellent infrastructure and facilities within a supportive environment focused on building your skills for enquiry, research and innovation.

Intellectual Environment

With nine faculty and two dozen PhD and Masters students, the Astronomy group at Macquarie University is one of the fastest growing centres for astrophysical research in Australia. Six faculty hold joint positions with the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) – Australia’s world-leading national astronomy research institutes. Based on our achievements, Macquarie University created the Research Centre in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrophotonics (MQAAAstro) in 2011 and has identified Astronomy and Astrophysics as an area to be vigorously supported into the foreseeable future. External recognition has come in the form of numerous prizes and five prestigious research fellowships awarded to faculty members by the Australian Research Council.

Macquarie PhD students in Astronomy and Astrophysics have access to co-supervision by the researchers at AAO and CASS via connections fostered by our joint appointments. The high-profile AAO and CASS graduate student programmes allow additional access to active and stimulating research environments; these institutes are recognised world-leaders in optical and radio astronomy, at the cutting edge of both science and technology development.

Our students are embedded in a rich intellectual environment and routinely attend seminars at Macquarie, the AAO, and at CASS, and are encouraged to participate in focus groups such as “Coffee and Code” (to increase computational skills), “Astro Theory Group” (to sharpen physical intuition), “Galaxy Lunch” or any of the seminars planned as part of our novel Quark-to-Quasars professional skill development program.

Training Environment

Our astronomers specialise in:

  • Optical and radio studies of galaxy formation and evolution
  • Radio studies of the interstellar medium
  • Galactic archaeology: assembly history of our Galaxy
  • Theoretical studies of star and planet formation and binary evolution
  • Astronomical instrumentation

Access to Facilities

Astronomy students at Macquarie have access to the world’s most technically advanced telescopes and powerful supercomputers through Macquarie’s membership of Astronomy Australia Limited. Our students and staff regularly obtain time on these facilities, including:

  • The 4m Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in northern New South Wales
  • The 6.5m Magellan Telescopes in Chile
  • The 4m Victor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile
  • The 8m Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile
  • The 10m Keck telescopes in Hawaii
  • The Raijin (in world's top 500) and Swinburne Green machine supercomputers, as well as other computational infrastructure

Macquarie University also has two weeks of dedicated access to the ANU 2.3m telescope and exclusive access to the new Huntsman Telephoto Array, both at Siding Spring Observatory. In addition, staff and students are highly successful in obtaining competitive time on other major international facilities, including:

  • The ESO Very Large Telescope
  • The Hubble Space Telescope
  • The Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • The Atacama Large Millimeter Array
  • The Very Large Array
  • The Parkes 64m Dish
  • The Australia Telescope Compact Array
  • The South African Large Telescope

Many recent advances in astrophysics have been made possible by the advent of large astronomical surveys. MQ astronomers regularly work with a range of survey data from photometric and spectroscopic surveys such as SDSS, RAVE, GALAH, Gaia-ESO, SkyMapper, GAMA and SAMI. In addition we are preparing to exploit the next generation of astronomical survey facilities, such as LSST and 4MOST, ASKAP and the SKA.
Our students are involved in a range of activities:

  • Ultra-high resolution imaging and modelling of small disks in evolved stars using the Very Large Telescope Interferometer in cotutelle with the Lagrange Laboratory of Nice University.
  • Combining radio spectral line observations from atoms and molecules in our Milky Way with cutting edge infra-red data from the Planck satellite to measure the amount of “hidden” gas in our Galaxy.
  • Using the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii to study evolved massive stars in nearby galaxies at near infrared wavelengths.
  • Using advanced laser-guided adaptive optics on the Gemini South Telescope to discover supernova hidden in star-bursting galaxies.
  • Using advanced instrumentation designed, built, and used in Australia to map the properties of star formation in hundreds of nearby galaxies. Using and developing sophisticated 3-dimensional hydrodynamics code to understand the collisions between stars and their planets.

Where are our Alumni now?

Our past students have been awarded fellowships, moved on to postdoctoral positions all over the world or moved to industry. Recent examples include:

  • Aaron Rizzuto (PhD 2014) University of Texas, Austin, USA Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Stacey Bright (PhD 2012) Space Telescope Science Institute (Baltimore, USA) Senior Data Scientist
  • Catherine Braiding (PhD 2011) University of New South Wales, Postdoctoral Fellow.
  • Korinne McDonnell (PhD 2011) CSIRO, Education and Outreach Officer
  • Brent Miszalski (PhD 2009, cotutelle with Strasbourg, France) South African Astronomical Observatory (Cape Town, South Africa) Astronomer
  • Madusha Gunawardhana (BSc(Hons) 2009) Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, University of Durham, UK - Postdoctoral Research Associate

The MQ Astro Focused PhD Programme

The MQ Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programme aims to train students to undertake research at the limits of our understanding of the Universe. During the course of their PhD, students will work with leading MQ astrophysicists to further our understanding of how galaxies formed and evolved over cosmic time, how our Galaxy was assembled, how planets and stars are formed out of interstellar gas and how stars die. At the conclusion of their studies, MQ PhD researchers will be world experts in their chosen area, and will have developed considerable skills in data analysis, theoretical modelling, and computer visualisation during their studies. The 3 year PhD and 4-5 year MRes/PhD programmes provide the skills required to become an independent researcher, with the ability to develop and undertake original research, and to communicate the relevance, significance and context of their work to others. The MQAAAstro focused PhD programme allows graduates to choose a diverse range of careers spanning from the classic academic pathway by moving to a post-doctoral appointment, to working in the broader Astronomy sector such as becoming a data scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, to choosing a career in a related industry such as the Education industry (teacher, outreach officer) or the Information Technology Industry (IT person data scientist), to mention a few.

PhD Projects

A wide range of potential PhD topics are on offer. Students interested in particular projects or potential projects in related areas, are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant supervisor(s).

Funding to support your PhD development

Funds are available to each student to help source small equipment or consumables, access to facilities, or specialist training, and to present your research results at premier national or international meetings. For more information click here…

Outreach and Education

There are many opportunities for MQ Astro focused PhD students to be involved in outreach and communication including the famous yearly MQ Astronomy Open Night, an event that routinely attracts over 1000 people. Our students also run our two domed telescopes which, aside from research and teaching, are also open weekly for the public. Aside from running operations at the Observatory, our students are also in charge of our 45-seat inflatable planetarium that is taken to schools and events.

MRes: Masters by Research

We offer Masters by Research degrees focusing on Quantum Science and Technology related research topics through the Macquarie University MRES degree. This two year degree involves eight units of coursework training and then a full year research project. Students accepted to this degree receive an automatic scholarship which increments from Yr1 to Yr2. For more information on the MRES degree click here.

How to Apply

To apply for either our PhD or MRes degree programme you need to complete an EXPRESSION OF INTEREST application form online. For this you will be asked to select your preferred research project from the list of Astro PhD Projects. your CV, and list of two potential Referees who you agree we can contact, and a brief statement regarding your short-term and long-term motivation for undertaking the degree programme.
This information allows us to judge your capability with other students applying so we can select those best suited to advance to full admission through the University scholarship programme.

Once selected you will be paired with a potential Supervisor who will then invite you to an interview. These interviews help potential students get a better feel for what the Degree Programme and research will be like. These interviews will be via Skype, phone or in-person and will take place at most one month after the Expression of Interest deadline.

Once you have passed the interview and the potential Supervisor agrees to supervise your PhD studies you need to prepare a formal application. This application will be to Macquarie University and will enable you to apply to all types of scholarships that you will be eligible for. You will need some referees to also fill out pre-set referee application forms and these are sent separately to the Macquarie University HDR office. Applicants are strongly advised to prepare their applications as soon as possible after finding a supervisor. Copies of some documents must be certified (by the relevant authorities) as part of the formal application.


The competition is high to obtain a Macquarie University PhD scholarship and to get some idea regarding the academic quality and eligibility for these please see this link. Proficiency in English is required by all HDR candidates and the standards set by Macquarie University are:

  • TOEFL (computer-based): Overall of 237 with minimum 19 in Listening, 19 in Reading, 25 in Structure/Writing and TWE of 5.0; OR
  • TOEFL (paper-based): Overall of 580 with 53 in Listening, 52 in Reading, 59 in Structure/Written Expression and TWE of 5.0; OR
  • iBT (internet-based TOEFL): Overall score of 92 with 23 in Speaking, 18 in Listening, 17 in Reading and 22 in Writing; OR IELTS (academic version): Overall 6.5 with minimum of 6.0 in each band
    The University rigorously applies these.

Read more…

More information about Higher Degree Research at Macquarie University can be found here.

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