2023 MSc & PhD Bursaries at the University of Western Cape


The Centre for Radio Cosmology (CRC) at the University of Western Cape (UWC) is internationally recognised for its research in cosmology and galaxy evolution with MeerKAT, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and other telescopes.

The CRC is offering MSc and PhD bursaries for 2023. The team of CRC staff – Dr Ed Elson, Prof Lerothodi Leeuw, Dr Michelle Lochner, Prof Roy Maartens, Prof Mario Santos, and Prof Russ Taylor – will supervise successful applicants on cutting-edge projects described briefly below.

The available topics cover the key science goals of the SKA in cosmology and galaxy evolution – which are closely linked to the science goals of the major upcoming optical/infrared surveys, such as the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and Euclid. 

In 2022, the CRC research team will include 21 PhD/ MSc students and 11 postdoctoral fellows. Postgraduate students at the CRC work in a friendly and highly active research environment, with support from postdoctoral researchers.

Similarly, students also have the possibility to be co-supervised by visiting professors Romeel Davé and Alkistis Pourtsidou (University of Edinburgh), Andrew Baker (Rutgers University), Matt Jarvis (Oxford University), Chris Clarkson (Queen Mary University of London), Stefano Camera (University of Turin), and Phil Bull (University of Manchester).

Furthermore, CRC students have opportunities to spend time in institutions abroad (depending on travel restrictions), in particular, the ones just mentioned. CRC’s research depends critically on data science, and CRC students have access to the resources from the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) at UWC.

How to apply

Interested applicants should email a single PDF document containing the following:

  • CV
  • Transcripts of all university-level results
  • A brief statement of research interests related to the topics below (1 page). Please include any previous research experience, however minor, with details of the research project and supervisor.

Please send your applications to Ms Nqakala before 6 June 2022.

Applicants should also arrange for two reference letters to be sent directly to UWC by the same closing date.

NOTE: Preference will be given to students who fit into the demographic guidelines provided by South Africa’s National Research Foundation NRF and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Bursary values

CRC bursaries are at the same level as bursaries from SARAO. The 2022 SARAO levels for Full Cost of Study are:

  • MSc: 2 years at R172,900 per year + travel grant (up to R29k/year) + equipment grant (up to R27k for two years)
  • PhD: 3 years at R180,430 per year + travel grant (up to R36k/year) + equipment grant (up to R40k for three years)

However, the bursaries might be increased in 2023. Please check NRF/SARAO rules for eligibility requirements.

Bursary conditions

Bursaries are granted on a year by year basis – i.e. continuing into the next year depends on satisfactory progress.

Research topics

We offer a range of topics that tackle some of the big questions at the forefront of international cosmology and galaxy evolution. Each topic below focuses on the South African-based radio arrays MeerKAT, SKA, Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) and the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX). Some topics also look at the synergy of radio surveys with optical/infrared galaxy surveys, such as LSST, DESI and Euclid. Furthermore, the CRC staff team will organise cutting-edge theory, computation, simulations, and data science training for the candidate.

  • Measuring neutral hydrogen (HI) across cosmic time with MeerKAT

This involves using MeerKAT observations to detect neutral hydrogen intensity statistically on cosmological scales. There are several projects, from more technical data analysis to signal simulations. These include the measurement of the power spectrum and detecting the elusive Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAO) that can constrain Dark Matter and Dark Energy. The data analysis techniques use state of the art statistical methods, including machine learning algorithms.

  • Unveiling the properties of HI galaxies

Using existing multi-wavelength observations and upcoming MeerKAT data, we will investigate the properties of HI in galaxies, giving new information on the HI and Dark Matter content of the Universe. There are two possible projects:

  • Statistical techniques like ‘stacking’ will allow us to probe the mass function of HI galaxies down to low flux limits.
  • Using HI spectral line observations from current data, particularly MeerKAT, to study nearby HI galaxies and quantify their dynamics, mass distribution and star formation properties.
  • Probing the first galaxies in the Universe

We will investigate the Epoch of Reionization and use HERA data to probe the HI 21cm signal from the early Universe. Several projects include simulations of the signal, the observation pipeline, and data analysis techniques (such techniques can consist of machine learning methods).

  • The radio continuum sky below the detection threshold

We will develop and apply statistical techniques (e.g. stacking) to radio continuum data from current surveys, particularly MeerKAT, to study the properties of radio galaxies below the detection threshold. This will allow us to constrain their source counts, luminosity functions and even 2-point correlation function at very low flux limits.

  • Machine learning in Astronomy

Telescopes such as the SKA in South Africa and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile will produce enormous data that will require novel techniques to analyse. This research topic aims to develop machine learning techniques for astronomical datasets, including those from MeerKAT. Of particular interest is the development of anomaly detection algorithms capable of discovering rare, or even entirely new, objects in large data sets.

  • Probing Dark Energy

Dark Energy is thought to be the source of the accelerating expansion of the Universe, and its properties can be accurately measured by using the probes extracted from HI and other surveys – such as the power spectrum, bispectrum, BAO scale, redshift-space distortions (RSD) and weak lensing. There are several possible projects associated with different probes.

  • Testing Einstein’s theory of General Relativity

We will explore whether the acceleration of the Universe is possibly not from Dark Energy, but instead from a modification of General Relativity – using the probes from HI and other surveys (especially RSD). There are several possible projects associated with different probes and different tests.

  • Extracting ‘fossil’ information from the very early Universe

The primordial fluctuations generated in the Universe’s first instants provide the seeds for the formation of the large-scale structure. Imprints of the primordial Universe are ‘frozen’ in the large-scale distribution of matter. We can extract this ‘fossil’ information via some of the probes listed in Topic 6. There are several possible projects associated with different probes and properties.

NOTE: Considerations can be made for topics out of the scope of those listed above on a case by case basis.

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