Fuelling the central engine of disc galaxies

A PhD @ ESO, Garching

We are looking for an enthusiastic Student to engage in a simulations + observations based PhD project together with an international team of modellers, observers and theorists. The PhD will be based in Munich, Germany, at the European Southern Observatory (Garching) with a supervisory team covering USM/LMU and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Munich. The 3-yrs PhD is funded by the ORIGINS Excellence Cluster in Munich. Applicants need to obtain the equivalent of a Master of Science degree by the time the PhD programme starts.

Applicants should send their files directly to Eric Emsellem (eric.emsellem@eso.org) and Klaus Dolag (kdolag@MPA-Garching.MPG.DE) by the 30th of April, 2021. Late applications will be considered until the position is filled.

The applicants should arrange for the sending of at least 2 (possibly 3) letters of recommendations by the deadline.

An individual application (PDF only) should include:
  • A Curriculum Vitae, including details on the academic path and mention of any relevant experiences (training periods, publications, projects).
  • A 1-page maximum motivation letter (font size >= 11).
  • Letters of recommendation (see above).
Starting Date: September 2021 (flexible)
Supervisory Team: Eric Emsellem (ESO) & Klaus Dolag (USM/MPA), Francesca Fragkoudi (ESO), Milena Valentini (USM/LMU) - (formal supervisors = Emsellem/Dolag)
Direct Collaborators for the project: Eva Schinnerer (MPIA-Heidelberg), Jeremy Fensch (CRAL-Lyon), Florent Renaud (Lund)
PhD@ESO Garching, funded by the ORIGINS Excellence Cluster (https://www.origins-cluster.de/en/)


Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) are present at the centres of most galaxies and seem to co-evolve with their hosts. Some become active, when specific physical conditions allow gas to be accreted in the vicinity of the SMBH. The activity is known to be intermittent, shutting on and off for short periods of 100 to 1,000,000 years.

The goal of the proposed PhD is to study the cause for this 'flickering' SMBH activity and identify the physical conditions which can turn on (or shut off) the SMBH activity. One key factor seems to be the availability and fuelling of gas from large galactic scales in the galaxy disks down to below the ~parsec scale, i.e. into the immediate vicinity of the SMBH itself.

Our team is conducting state-of-the-art numerical and observational experiments to further our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies (via cosmological simulations, high-resolution simulations of galaxies, detailed modelling and observations using multi-wavelength messengers). One main focus is on the role of galactic structures on star formation, nuclear activity and the connection with black holes.

In that context, we seek a PhD student who will lead the development, running and exploitation of dedicated hydro-dynamical simulations at highest resolution possible to directly probe the variability and understand how it connects to the large-scale disk properties. The PhD project will benefit form the nearby LRZ supercomputing facilities and get the support from an international team of theorists and observers (e.g., Florent Renaud, Lund; Eva Schinnerer, MPIA-Heidelberg; Jeremy Fensch, CRAL-Lyon). This PhD project will also be a superb opportunity to connect with multi-wavelength observational astronomy via e.g., the unique PHANGS datasets (e.g., ALMA, MUSE/VLT, HST). We will guide and support the PhD student as to have her/him take full ownership of the project, its science objectives and results.

Useful References

  • Renaud, Bournaud, Emsellem et al., 2013, MNRAS 436, 1836
  • Emsellem, Renaud, Bournaud et al. 2015, MNRAS 446, 2468
  • Guillard, Emsellem, Renaud, et al. 2016, MNRAS 461, 3620
  • Hopkins, Quataert 2010, MNRAS 407, 152
  • Tress et al. 2020, eprint arXiv:2004.06724
  • ESO = http://www.eso.org ⇒ “The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is the pre-eminent intergovernmental science and technology organisation in astronomy. It carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities for astronomy, in order to enable important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research.”
  • LRZ: https://www.lrz.de/english/ ⇒ the Leibniz-Rechenzentrum is a computing centre hosting several super computers and its associated support, and is based in Munich (Garching Science Campus)
  • ORIGINS: https://www.origins-cluster.de/en/ ⇒ “The Excellence Cluster ORIGINS investigates the origin of the Universe and life. The interdisciplinary research network emerges from the very fruitful collaboration between astro-, particle- and nuclear physicists within the previous Excellence Cluster Universe, which explored fundamental properties of the Universe.”
  • PHANGS: https://sites.google.com/view/phangs/home ⇒ this project (Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS aim to understand the interplay of the small-scale physics of gas and star formation with galactic structure and galaxy evolution. Observations of nearby galaxies will be utilised to understand how physics at or near the “cloud” scale are affected by galaxy-scale conditions, how they affect still smaller scale processes, and how these influence the evolution of whole galaxies. PHANGS is mainly based on 3 ambitious observing campaigns using state-of-the-art facilities: the PHANGS-ALMA and PHANGS-MUSE Large Programmes as well as the PHANGS-HST project. It is supported by a set of accompanying surveys (from the UV to the Radio) and numerical simulations and modelling efforts.