PhD Projects

PhD projects within the framework of numerical astrophysics as carried out by the CAST group (see our research pages) are always available on request.

Please contact
A. Burkert (burkert[at]
B. Ercolano (ercolano[at]
K. Dolag (dolag[at]
for possible projects.

Funding for PhD projects can be obtained by applying to the "International Max Planck Research School on Astrophysics (IMPRS)", the "Cluster of Excellence for Fundamental Physics (Origin and Structure of the Universe)" or the current "DFG Schwerpunktprogramm ISM", or sometimes by 3rd party funding obtained by individual group members.

Currently ongoing PhD projects
TAngular momentum properties of galaxies using the Magneticum Pathfinder simulations

Angular momentum properties of galaxies using the Magneticum Pathfinder simulations

We investigate the connection between the morphology and the angular momentum properties of galaxies using the Magneticum Pathfinder simulations. Furthermore, we test the dependency of the morphology on the environment. Finally, we will study the changes of galaxy/cluster properties in a ΛCDM universe including massive neutrinos as one of the DM components.
Adelheid Teklu
The engines of galaxies: towards a better understanding of active galactic nuclei

The engines of galaxies: towards a better understanding of active galactic nuclei

Almost every galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole. This black hole is located in the center of the galaxy and is fueled by in-falling gas, either from the galaxy itself or due to mergers with other galaxies or smaller substructures. Whether gas is accreted or not depends strongly on its properties such as the temperature or angular momentum. Only a fraction of the accreted matter leads to mass growth of the black hole, while the remaining energy is emitted by the black hole (AGN feedback) in the form of radiation and mechanical outflows (jets). In large cosmological simulations the gas properties and different types of AGN feedback are often neglected. To include such effects I develop sub-grid models and use the Magneticum Pathfinder simulations at first to test the models and then to implement them in larger simulations. These simulations can be useful for making predictions i.e. for scaling relations between black holes and their host galaxies or to understand the clustering of AGN depending on their properties and environment. This can be used i.e. to estimate cluster masses from observables or to calibrate X-ray and SZ observables.
Lisa Steinborn
The Galactic Center cloud G2 as an outflow from a central star

The Galactic Center cloud G2 as an outflow from a central star

The gas and dust cloud G2 is orbiting around SgrA* on a very eccentric orbit and it has been passing pericenter in the early 2014 (Gillessen et al., 2012, 2013a,b, Pfuhl et al., 2015). Its discovery has triggered a large interest in the astronomical community, with several speculations on its fate, in its interaction with the hot surrounding gas and with the supermassive black hole in the Center of the Milky Way. However, the nature of G2 is still a matter of debate. In this PhD project, 2D and 3D AMR hydrodynamic simulations allowed us to test one specific scenario, namely G2 being the outflow from a central source (Ballone et al., 2013; in preparation; see also De Colle et al., 2014). This meant implementing the injection of gas in the simulation from an inner moving boundary on the best-fit observed orbit. A first set of simulations in 2D allowed us to study, with high resolution, the structure of such an outflow and to get an estimate of the parameters - namely the mass-loss rate and the velocity of the outflow -, needed to reproduce the observational properties of G2. The output values are compatible with those of a T Tauri star, as already suggested by Scoville $ Burkert (2013). Most recent simulations in 3D cartesian coordinates, using the AMR implementation of PLUTO, allow us a stricter comparison with the current IR observations, through the construction of mock position-velocity (PV) diagrams for the integral field spectrograph SINFONI at VLT.
Alessandro Ballone
Origin and Properties of Giant Clumps in z=2 Disk Galaxies

Origin and Properties of Giant Clumps in z=2 Disk Galaxies

High resolution observations of disk galaxies at high-redshift e.g. with ESO's VLT reveal distinct differences when compared to present-day disk galaxies. Their structure is irregular with highly turbulent motions and high gas fractions of 30-80%. Stars form with enormous rates of a factor of 10-100 higher than in the Milky Way. The star formation is concentrated in a few gigantic clumps of molecular gas, about 1000 times larger than present day molecular clouds, and as big as dwarf galaxies. Numerical simulations of gravitationally unstable gas-rich disks show that fragmentation naturally leads to contracting and self-rotating clumps. However clear observational evidence for spinning clumps is still missing, which might either be caused by limited resolution or an alternative formation scenario. In order to gain a better understanding, we run idealized high resolution simulations of isolated gas-rich disks with the adaptive mesh refinement code RAMSES to follow the fragmentation process of gravitational instabilities from the beginning and the evolution up to a few orbital times. We also mock beam smearing effects to compare our results with observations.
Manuel Behrendt

Finished PhD projects
ESO image of NGC 7252

The Outer Structure of Elliptical Galaxies and their Dark Matter Halos

The outer haloes of elliptical galaxies have been studied by observations of planetary nebulae as tracers for the LOSVD for several years to adress the questions of the nature of the Dark Matter halo they are embedded in and the mechanisms that drive the formation of elliptical galaxies, revealing a huge variety of different profiles, some flattening to nearly constant values, some increasing again in the outer part and some decreasing fastly, showing nearly no evidence of a dark matter halo. We try to explain the nature of the different profiles by studying different evolution scenarios for elliptical galaxies from simulations.
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Rhea-Silvia Remus, 2015
Massive Star Feedback

Impact of massive stars on the surrounding medium

The aim of this project is to shed light on the impact of massive stars on the interstellar medium (ISM) in their surroundings. A good example of a region revealing such interactions between stars and the ISM is the Orion/Eridanus Superbubble (OES), a cavity blown by stellar winds and supernova explosions. This region has the advantage of being well observed. Its interaction with the local bubble, the dilute region in the ISM in which our sun is located, makes this zone even more interesting. We have developed a population synthesis code using modern stellar models to calculate the output of mass and energy from groups of massive stars, so-called OB associations. The spread of the ejecta into the ISM is followed with hydrodynamical simulations. The observational constraints on the 26Al distribution provide information on the time scales of the interaction process, since 26Al is a radioactive trace element that decays approximately a million years after being ejected from the stars. Thus, the spread of 26Al in different hydro models will help to understand the peculiar shape (distribution of density, shocks, evolution of star birth regions) of the OES.
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Katharina Fierlinger, 2014
Massive Star Feedback

Massive star feedback and triggered star formation

Over their lifetime massive stars strongly affect the surrounding cloud. Strong stellar winds and ionizing radiation create HII regions, generate bubbles and pillar-like structures. The compression of material by the wind and the radiation shocks eventually leads to gravitational collapse and subsequent star formation. To study the effects of massive star feedback on the surrounding cloud, we perform numerical simulations using smooth particle hydrodynamics (SPH) and perform a detailed comparison of the results with multi-wavelength observations of the Carina nebula which is the most nearby southern region with an important population of massive stars.
The objectives are:
  • to determine the relative importance of ionizing feedback and stellar winds from high mass stars.
  • to understand the effects of massive star feedback on the star formation process, i.e. to determine whether star formation is inhibited or rather triggered by stellar feedback.
  • to assess the importance of the second generation of stars in comparison to the first one in a star forming region.
Image: A pillar of gas in the Carina Nebula. Radiation and fast winds from the stars sculpt the pillar and cause new star formation within it (Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team).
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Judith Ngoumou, 2014
Star Formation near the GC

Simulating Star formation near the Galactic Centre Black Hole

In this work we try to understand the formation of the discs of stars near the Galactic Centre in our Milky Way, as observed by the infrared group at the MPE (Genzel et al. 2003, Paumard et al. 2006, Bartko et al. 2009). For this we simulate the infall of molecular clouds onto the central black hole using the smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) code GADGET2. During the encounter the clouds engulf the black hole in part, leading to gas streaming around the black hole with opposite angular momentum. This gas collides and settles into an eccentric accretion disc around the black hole which eventually becomes unstable and fragments into the observed stellar disc.
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Christian Alig, 2013
Magnetic Fields in Protogalaxies

Magnetic Fields in Protogalaxies

We are studying the amplitude and structure of the magnetic field during formation and evolution of galaxies. Our goal is to get a starting understanding, if and how a magnetic seed field, that might have been created through battery effects in the early times of the universe and is of the scale attogauss, could have evolved and amplified to the microgauss levels one can observe in galaxies today. Additionally we are looking into the effects that the addition of the magnetic energy density has on properties of those systems, like star formation rates and metallicities. Starting at high redshift and including star formation and feedback, we are performing non-radiative simulations with the SPH code Gadget3. We are also working on finding new ways to further develop the cosmological MHD implementation, by studying the effects of different kernels, dissipative terms and error corrections in SPMHD.
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Alexander Beck, 2013
Carina Nebula

Deriving a clump mass function of the Carina Nebula

The Young Stars & Star Formation group (Head: Prof. Thomas Peibisch) is currently involved in a large multi-wavelength project to study the young stellar populations in the Carina Nebula. This site of very recent and ongoing massive star formation allows a detailed look at the interaction of the winds and radiation of the numerous very massive young stars with the surrounding molecular clouds. With near-infrared, X-ray, and sub-mm observations we will investigate how the feedback from the massive stars disperses remnant clouds at some locations and triggers new generations of stars in other locations. I am using sub-mm data which trace the cold dust to derive a clump mass function of the Carina Nebula. Our aims are to investigate the cloud morphology and the effects of massive stellar feedback on the molecular cloud.
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Stephanie Pekruhl
Physics of Galaxy Clusters

Studying the physics of galaxy clusters by simulations and X-ray observations

Clusters of galaxies are optimal targets to study the large--scale structure of the Universe as well as the complex physical processes on the smaller scales. It is therefore vital to unveil cluster intrinsic structure, precisely estimate their total gravitating mass, and accurately calibrate scaling relations between observable quantities. A promising approach to achieve a more detailed picture of such complicated objects is found in the comparison between hydrodynamical numerical simulations of galaxy clusters and X--ray observations.
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Veronica Biffi, 2012
Supernova-driven Wind

Supernova-driven Galactic Winds

Galactic winds are common features within Lyman-alpha emitting galaxies at redshifts z>2. It however remains unclear what mechanisms are responsible to launch this type of outflow. The underlying project is based on hydrodynamic grid simulations with NIRVANA to investigate the conditions for a supernovae-driven galactic wind, and will also include a detailed parameter studies.
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Wolfgang von Glasow, 2012
Survival of Galaxies in Cluster Simulations

Studying the survival of galaxies in hydrodynamical simulations of clusters

The project aims at investigating galaxy cluster formation and evolution by means of numerical simulations performed with a modified version of the TreeSPH code GADGET-3. This new version of the code employs adaptive softening to describe the gravitational interaction between the simulation particles; having this quantity variable in space and time, as opposed to having it fixed at the beginning of the simulation, allows to increase the spatial resolution in overdense regions whilst keeping particle-particle noise under control in less dense environments. Simulations involving gravitational as well as gas dynamics are likely to considerably benefit from the adoption of this scheme: the adaptive behaviour of the resolution scale should allow to follow the collapse of dark matter and particularly gas down to scales which are currently unachievable in standard simulations at comparable mass resolution, thus providing a more reliable representation of the behaviour of galaxy-like substructures.
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Francesca Iannuzzi, 2012
Cold Filament Formation

Formation of cold filaments and interstellar turbulence

I study the formation of cold filaments in the ISM with hydrodynamical simulations of wind-blown superbubbles from OB associations using the RAMSES code. I am also interested in the drivers and properties of interstellar turbulence. The picture shows a zoom-in on one of the formed filaments in the simulation. Axes are in parsecs, shown is logarithm of hydrogen number density.
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Eva Ntormousi, 2012
Nonthermal Emission in Galaxy Clusters

On the non-thermal emission in galaxy clusters

We investigate the transient phenomenon of radio haloes - Mpc sized, diffuse radio sources found exclusively in a fraction of merging galaxy clusters. The non-thermal spectrum suggests that in the intra cluster medium Cosmic Ray electrons interact with magnetic fields to emit Synchrotron radiation. Using the cosmological MHD SPH code Gadget3 we investigate Secondary and, for the first time, Reacceleration models as sources for the short lived cosmic ray electrons.
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Julius Donnert, 2011

Origin of the anti-hierarchical growth of black holes in the universe

In our current picture of galaxy formation, it is commonly accepted that every spheroidal galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole (SMBH) in its center. Moreover, SMBHs are found to be tightly correlated to properties of their host galaxies, as luminosity, bulge mass, velocity dispersion. This suggests a co-evolution of galaxies and black holes. However, detailed physical processes are still not well understood. One puzzling question, which we assess in this study, is to understand the observed downsizing trend in black hole growth. Investigating the number density evolution of AGN, observations show that luminous AGN peak at higher redshifts than less luminous ones (see colored dashed lines and grey shaded areas in the left image), implying that massive black holes form already very early in the universe, whereas less massive objects predominantly seem to form at later times. However, in order to explain the observed downsizing within a hierarchical structure formation model, accretion mechanisms onto the black holes and their corresponding efficiences will be of crucial importance. Thus in order to investigate this problem, we use a semi-analytic model, where we find additional modifications to be important ingredients in order to match the observations. This is illustrated by the solid, colored lines in the panel on the left-hand side showing a reasonably good agreement with the observations.
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Michaela Hirschmann, 2011
Survival of Galaxies in Cluster Simulations

Magnetic field evolution in spiral galaxies

Magnetic fields are believed to be importanant in many astrophysical processes like star formation, cosmic ray confinement and jet formation. However, despite their importance, the origin and evolution of magnetic fields in galaxies is still not well understood. Magnetic field evolution is tightly coupled to galactic evolution. In the standard cold dark matter clustering models, galaxies evolve through several major and minor mergers of galaxies and galactic subunits. Thus, galactic interactions should be a crucial part of magnetic field evolution, which is why we investigate interacting galaxies including magnetic fields using N-body/SPH simulations. Our studies show that magnetic fields are efficiently amplified up to equipartition between magnetic and turbulent pressure during galactic collisions. Moreover, magnetic fields seem to be important for the propagation of shocks in the interstellar medium. Therby, the Mach numbers of the shocks are higher for stronger magnetic fields, suggesting that the shocks are supprted by magnetic pressure. Artificial radio maps of our simulated systems are in good agreement with observations.
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Hanna Kotarba, 2011
SPMHD for Cosmological Simulations

Smoothed particle magneto-hydro-dynamics for cosmological applications

We study novel implementations of MHD in SPH, constraining and understanding the effects of non divergentless magnetic field. We apply this methods in non-radiative cosmological simulations that allow us to study the large scale effects of magnetic fields and we found limits in detectability for current instrumental capabilities.
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Federico Stasyszyn, 2011
KHI and DE

Hydrodynamical Instabilities and the Trace of Dark Energy within the CMB

Part I: The first part concentrates on the numerical description of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI), based on the two most widely used approaches, 'Smooth particle Hydrodynamics' (SPH) and grid based codes. Re-derving the analytical linear viscous KHI growth rate we study the evolution in detail and compare the simulated amplitudes with the analytical expectation.
Part II: The second part analyzes the influence of Dark Energy on cosmic structures, which results in non-Gaussian contributions known as secondary anisotropies. In particular, the Rees-Sciama effect (which includes the nonlinear evolution of structures) plays a crucial role. The effect of different DE models, such as quintessence can be studied analytically with the three point correlation function, or the bispectrum.
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Veronika Junk, 2010