University of Exeter funding: The formation and evolution of disc

The formation and evolution of discs around young stars, Physics and Astronomy – PhD (Funded by STFC) Ref: 3811

About the award


Professor Matthew R. Bate, University of Exeter


Physics and Astronomy, Streatham Campus, Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:
Advances in observational facilities, particularly the advent of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) and the VLT/SPHERE instrument, have recently provided images of discs around young stars at unprecedented resolutions and sensitivities. These observations are providing large samples of discs with measured masses and sizes, and that display a wide variety of structures (e.g. dust rings, spirals, and dust arcs).
The aim of this PhD project is to use hydrodynamical models of disc formation and evolution to extend our understanding of the origin of the diversity of protoplanetary discs and the physical processes that drive their evolution. Last year, I published the first study of the properties of discs resulting from a radiation hydrodynamical simulation of star cluster formation (Bate 2018). The bulk properties of the discs produced by this calculation are in surprisingly good agreement with those that have been observed in nearby star-forming regions. However, this raises the question of how disc properties depend on environment. How might discs differ in regions of lower or higher stellar density, or at different metallicities, or at high redshift? I have a number of calculations that are similar to that analysed by Bate (2018), but that model star formation in different environments. The first part of the PhD project would be to analyse the disc from these other simulations to determine how the star formation environment affects the of protoplanetary discs.

Following this initial project, there are a number of directions in which the PhD may proceed. Active areas of research that I am involved in include understanding the dynamics and growth of dust in protoplanetary discs (i.e. the earliest stages of planet formation), and the dynamics of discs in binary and multiple star systems (e.g. .me-variable accretio0n from a circumbinary disc onto the embedded stars, and the evolution of discs that are misaligned with the orbit of a binary system, such as in my simulation shown in the above Figure). Some of this work may involve working with observers at Exeter and elsewhere to model specific star/disc systems.

This project will involve performing and analysing radiation hydrodynamical simulations of star formation and protoplanetary discs using a state-of-the-art smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) code. You will learn aspects of astrophysical fluid dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics, and how dust and gas interact during star and planet formation. You will learn how to analysis and visualise large computational datasets. The project is likely to involve some parallel programming (both OpenMP and MPI), and comparison of models with analytical theory and observations. For further information, please visit my webpage, look at the paper below, and/or email me.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,009 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in September 2020.

The studentship will cover a stipend at the minimum Research Council rate, £15,009 in 2019/20, research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for students who meet the residency requirements outlined by the STFC.  Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend.  Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.  Further information about eligibility can be found here.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. 

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. Please ask your referees to email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number, or upload them with your application.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday 27th January 2020.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus the week commencing [date to be confirmed].

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor Prof Matthew Bate


Application deadline:27th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per year for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5150