PhD scholarships - Understanding diversity: chemokinematic tracers of galaxy evolution


Enrolment status New students
Student type Domestic students, International students
Level of study Higher Degree by Research
Study area Science and Mathematics
HDR funding type Living stipend scholarship, Tuition Scholarship
Scholarship value $28,854 per annum (2022 rate), indexed annually
Scholarship duration 3.5 years with the possibility of 1 extension in line with UQ and RTP Scholarship Policy
Number awarded 2
Opening date 8 September 2021
Closing date 27 September 2021


Supervisor – Dr Sarah Sweet

Understanding galaxy formation and evolution is a fundamental unresolved goal of Astrophysics today. Three of the six major questions outlined in the Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2016–2025 advance the field of galaxy evolution: ‘How do galaxies form?’, ‘What is the nature of dark matter?’, ‘How are elements recycled through galaxies?’ These questions can be summed up in the specific motivation for this project, ‘How do the clumpy, irregular galaxies at the peak of cosmic star formation (cosmic high noon) become the familiar Hubble types we see today?’

The aim of these projects is to understand the fundamental physics behind the morphological evolution of galaxies. We are investigating the angular momentum and chemical abundance across the face of galaxies throughout the Universe, to construct a framework of chemokinematic diagnostics that can trace the evolution of galaxies of all kinds.

There are two PhD projects on offer.

Project 1 is on galaxy angular momentum. A galaxy's morphology is quantified by the ratio of light in its central bulge compared with total luminosity. This 'bulge-to-total ratio' works reasonably well for nearby, well-resolved and regular galaxies, but not as well for distant galaxies which are more difficult to observe and are more often clumpy and irregular. The distribution of angular momentum within a galaxy fundamentally encodes information about that galaxy's evolution and morphology and consequently is a new physically-grounded method for classifying galaxies. This project involves developing this classification method for galaxies of all morphological types and at all redshifts.

Project 2 is on chemical abundance diagnostics. Chemical content is an important signature of a galaxy's lifecycle, as the buildup of elements from hydrogen and helium to heavier 'metals' is intimately linked to its history of star formation. There are two equally-justifiable methods for measuring chemical content based on regions of active star formation within galaxies, but the methods are not properly calibrated, so they do not agree. Moreover, they are valid in different regimes, so that we cannot accurately compare distant galaxies with those nearby, or massive galaxies with small ones. This project involves working with 3D spectroscopic data to obtain a complete three-dimensional picture of star-forming regions, and recalibrate the chemical content measurements.

A working knowledge of programming languages such as Python and/or R would be of benefit to someone working on this project.


To be eligible, you must meet the entry requirements for a higher degree by research.

This scholarship is open to Australian citizens, permanent residents and International students who are currently in Australia at the time of application and commencement.

Before you get started

If this scholarship has rules, download and read them.

How to apply

To apply for admission and scholarship, follow this link. There is no separate application for scholarship because you will have the opportunity to request scholarship consideration on the application for admission.

Before submitting an application you should:

When you apply, please ensure that under the scholarships and collaborative study section you:

  1. Select ‘My higher degree is not collaborative’
  2. Select 'I am applying for, or have been awarded a scholarship or sponsorship'.
  3. Select ‘Other’, then ‘Research Project Scholarship’ and type in ‘GALAXY-SWEET’ in the 'Name of scholarship' field.

See an example of what you have to do

Learn more about applying for a higher degree by research at UQ

Selection criteria

Applications will be judged on a competitive basis taking into account the applicant’s previous academic record, publication record, honours and awards, and employment history.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field/s of astrophysics and the potential for scholastic success.


Dr Sarah Sweet
0402 089 803

Terms and conditions

Read the policy on UQ Research Scholarships.

A domestic part-time student with carer’s responsibilities, a medical condition or a disability, which prevents them from studying full time may be eligible for scholarship consideration, on a case by case basis.