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Department of Physics

Postgraduate Astronomy Course at Durham 2017-2018


Course Director - Prof Carlton Baugh

1. COURSE OVERVIEW

The astronomy postgraduate course comprises a broad range of (1) practically orientated research-skill workshops, including (amongst others) statistics, programming, data reduction, and high-performance computing, and (2) scientific lectures. The lecture series have been chosen to cover the range of astronomical research undertaken in Durham and for the most part their focus is the research in which the lecturer is currently involved.

The course starts with predominantly research-based lectures in the Michaelmas term, followed by science themed lectures, which continue into Epiphany. Problems and exercises are set within lectures and are part of the overall assessment for the first year of postgraduate studies; see later in this document for details of the required performance in the post-graduate course to progress to the 2nd year. The opening lecture is during the Induction Week and the lecture courses start on 9th October.

There are various options available to students in selecting which lectures they take; see below for more details. Please select your options and discuss them with your supervisor and give them to the post-graduate course director for approval by the end of October.

Lectures are held most days at 9am and 10 am in OCW017 unless indicated otherwise. Please see the following link for the course schedule (including lecture timing and room information), and course updates: http://www.astro.dur.ac.uk/PGcourse

Note that other postgraduate courses are available across the research groups within physics (see https://www.dur.ac.uk/physics/postgraduate/currentstudents/courses/dept/) and there are complementary skills courses run by the Computing and Information Services (CIS) and the Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development (CAROD, which can give you useful background and experience on a range of topics. See https://www.dur.ac.uk/cis/training/courses/ for the dates and details of these training courses.

Students are encouraged to attend the courses offered by the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Data Intensive Science, which cover topics such as numerical methods, statistics and machine learning. Further information about these courses can be found on the CDT web pages (https://ddis.physics.dur.ac.uk/) and through the course calendar (https://ddis.physics.dur.ac.uk/calendar/).

2. COURSE MODULES

In line with the post-graduate courses in physics at Durham, the astronomy post-graduate course is broken into different modules, each of which has associated learning credits. The astronomy post-graduate course comprises 135 learning credits. Broadly, the course is broken down into the following modules:

(a) Research tools in astronomy I (15 credits)

This module gives you skills in a wide range of research tools, from astronomical computing to on-line astronomical resources and literature searches. As part of the course all students also attend the 24 weekly colloquium talks, which provide the scientific background to the presented material. In addition all students attend the 24 Friday lunchtime scientific talks in the first 6 months.

(b) Research tools in astronomy II (15 credits)

This module includes 3 major lecture courses: statistics in astronomy, programming in astronomy, and one of two options, either (a) a data reduction workshop or (b) a high-performance computing workshop; the timetabling of these workshops allow interested students to take both the data reduction and the high-performance computing workshop. All of the 3 lecture courses have a large course-work component.

(c) Writing and evaluating scientific papers (15 credits)

This module provides you with the skills to write scientific papers and to evaluate scientific papers. Course work comprises a major aspect of this course. You will evaluate two opposing scientific papers and write up your results in a 2,500 word critique and present your work in a 15 minute seminar. You will also attend a weekly journal club to discuss research papers with other post-graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. Each 1st year student will lead a journal-club discussion and evaluate a paper of their (and their supervisors) choice.

(d) Astrophysics (20 credits)

This module teaches you state-of-the-art research and science across a broad range of astrophysics, from stellar populations to galaxy formation and high-energy astrophysics. You need to select at least 40 hrs of lectures from 10 post-graduate-specific astronomy lecture components, the post-graduate-specific advanced instrumentation lectures, and the 4th year astrophysics-related MPhys lectures. These lectures include course work. You should decide with your supervisor which lectures you should attend. This plan should then be approved by the post-graduate course director.

(e) Research project (75 credits)

In this module you undertake research. You will write up this research, which is then assessed in a ~30 min viva as part of the 1st year progression. You will also present your research in a 20 minute Friday lunchtime talk.

3. COURSE ASSESSMENT

The student’s performance on the course is assessed via course work. The course work for each lecture component of the astrophysics module is designed to take ~3 hrs of effort, although the exact time will vary depending on the lecture course and the student. The course work in the research skills module is expected to be more involved and will typically take substantially more effort. The deadlines for each piece of course work will be given by the lecturer. There will be a formal feedback session scheduled for each lecture course, approximately two weeks after the completion of the course.

Each student is also required to write a 2500 word critique of two opposing papers/studies and give a 15 minute presentation on this towards the end of the Epiphany (2nd) term. The selection of the opposing papers will be decided by your supervisors. The deadline for the submission of a first draft of the critique is 1st March. Supervisors will then provide feedback on the critique, ready for a final submission on 8th March. The talks will take place on 15th and 16th March 2018.

Each student is also required to write a 5000 word research report on which they are tested with a viva examination. A first draft report is due to be submitted to the supervisor on 15th June. The supervisor is responsible for appointing examiners. The examiners and student arrange a date for final submission of the report and for the viva. Ideally, this should take place well before the end of July, so that the formal progression can be processed in advance of the University deadline of 31st August.

Required performance for progression: progression into the 2nd year of study is dependent on performance in the 1st year. It is a requirement of each astronomy student to attend all lectures and complete all course work and the 2500 word research critique and presentation. You must achieve an average of >40% in each of the assessed modules and also successfully complete the 5000 word research report and viva. Any student who fails to achieve this will be referred to the director of post-graduate studies in physics and will be required to retake all of the failed modules.

Only students who achieve high marks in the post-graduate course (>70%) will be eligible for the 1st year post-graduate prize in physics.

4. FURTHER DETAILS ON THE COURSE MODULES

(a) Research tools in astronomy I

The overview of this module is given above. Brief details are provided below on the lectures and the astronomy colloquia and Friday-lunchtime talks.

  • The Role of a Post-graduate student (1 hr) [Prof C. Baugh]
  • Research Tools in Astronomy (3 hrs) [Mr A. P. Lotts; Dr A. M. Swinbank; Dr. J Lucey].
  • Astronomy colloquia: The astronomy colloquia are held every Wednesday during term time at 3pm in OCW017, which all students should attend. Coffee and tea follows at 4pm on Level 1 of the Ogden Centre West (Z103). The colloquia are organised by Dr Michele Fumagalli (email: michele.fumagalli@durham.ac.uk and Dr. Ryan Cooke (ryan.j.cooke@durham.ac.uk)

See http://astro.dur.ac.uk/Cosmology/index.php?content=Events/Seminars for the colloquium calendar.

Friday-lunchtime talks: Astronomy talks are held every Friday during term time at 1.00pm in OCW017, which all students should attend. Many of the astronomy groups also have their own weekly group meetings. The Friday-lunchtime talks are organised by Alfie Tiley (alfred.l.tiley@durham.ac.uk) and Bitten Goldberg (bitten.gullberg@durham.ac.uk)

(b) Research tools in astronomy II

This module includes 3 major lecture courses: statistics in astronomy, programming in astronomy (IDL and Python), and either (a) a data reduction workshop or (b) a high-performance computing workshop. All of the 3 lecture courses have a large course-work component.

  • Statistics (16 hrs) [Prof Ifan Hughes]
  • Statistics in Astronomy Workshop (5 hrs) [Prof R. G. Bower]
  • Programming in Python (9 hrs) [Dr. Andrew Cooper]
  • Data Reduction Workshops or HPC Workshops (6-10 hrs) [Dr M Swinbank & Dr. J. Wardlow; Dr T. Theuns]

Your options: you can select from either the data reduction workshop or the high-performance computing workshop. For the programming course work you can decide whether to complete the course work in either IDL or Python (an overview of both programming languages are provided).

(c) Writing and evaluating scientific papers

This module provides students with the skills to write scientific papers and to evaluate scientific papers. Course work comprises a major aspect of this course. The students evaluate two opposing scientific papers and write up their results in a 2,500 word critique and present their results in a 15 minute seminar. The students will also attend a weekly journal club to discuss research papers with other post-graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. Each 1st year student will lead a journal-club discussion and evaluate a paper of their (and their supervisor) choice.

  • Scientific writing skills (1hr ) [Dr. P. Norberg]
  • Critical assessment of scientific results (1 hr) [Dr P. Norberg; Dr. R.J. Massey]
  • 1st year PG student journal club (8 hrs) [Coordinators: S. Gilman, W. Collier. C. Hernandez, A. Genina]

(d) Astrophysics

An overview of this module and associated course work is given above. Brief details are provided below on the post-graduate astronomy course-specific lectures.

Your options: you must attend at least 50 hrs of scientific lectures and undertake the associated course work. In addition to the course-specific lectures list below students can also choose lectures from the other physics post-graduate courses and also the 4th year of the MPhys course. However, note that the lectures from the 4th year MPhys course only count for half the amount of the course-specific lectures (i.e., you need to undertake 2 hrs of lectures on a 4th year MPhys course to account for 1 hr of your 50 hrs of lectures). Durham students can only take 4th year MPhys lectures that they did not take during their MPhys degree. Please discuss which lectures you should take with your supervisor. These should then be approved by the post-graduate course director by the end of October.

The post-graduate astronomy course-specific lectures are listed below.

Compact objects:

  • Stellar structure and stellar end points (5 hrs) [Prof R. M. Sharples; Prof T. P. Roberts]
  • Stellar Populations (4 hrs) [Dr R. J. Smith]
  • AGN and black holes (6 hrs) [Dr. D. Rosario; Prof C. Done]

Large scales:

  • Cosmology (6 hrs) [Dr T. Theuns]
  • Galaxy Formation (5 hrs) [Prof. C.G. Lacey]
  • The Intergalactic Medium and the Interstellar Medium (7 hrs) [Prof T. Theuns/Dr. M. Fumgalli]

Survey science:

  • The Milky Way (3 hrs) [Dr. A. Deason]
  • Large-scale structure (5 hrs) [ Dr. P. Norberg]
  • Clusters and Groups of Galaxies (3 hrs) [Dr A. C. Edge]
  • Gravitational lensing (2 hrs) [Dr. M. Jauzac]
  • The high-z universe (3 hrs) [Dr. J Wardlow]
  • Instrumentation in astronomy (6 hrs) [Drs. A.G. Basden, P.M. Chadwick, T.J. Morris, J. Schmoll]

Theoretical techniques:

  • Stellar dynamics (5 hrs) [Prof S. M. Cole]
  • Cosmological simulations (4 hrs) [ Dr. B. Li]

The Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science offers courses in numerical methods, compiled languages, software design, and machine learning. These courses are available to all astronomy postgraduate students; students are encouraged to follow these courses.

See the Department of Physics web page for details of the post-graduate courses available from other research sections, i.e., advanced instrumentation, particle physics, atomic and molecular, condensed matter physics (https://www.dur.ac.uk/physics/postgraduate/currentstudents/courses/dept/).

For the 4th year MPhys lectures see https://www.dur.ac.uk/physics/undergraduate/courses/details/

Research project

In this module the students undertake research. They write up their research (~5,000 word report), which is then assessed in a ~30 min viva as part of the 1st year progression. They will also present their research in a 20 minute Friday lunchtime talk; see above for details of the Friday lunchtime talks.

LECTURER CONTACT DETAILS

Please refer to the University email address book to find contact details for lecturers:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/directory/