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Scholarship details

2023 RTP round - Resolving Pico-arcsecond Structures in Relativistic Plasmas Around Pulsars

Status: Closed

Applications open: 8/07/2022
Applications close: 18/08/2022

View printable version [.pdf]

About this scholarship

Pulsars, or neutron stars, are exquisite laboratories for studying extreme, high-energy physics. Their super strong gravitational and magnetic fields cannot be replicated on Earth, making the environment of pulsars the only places in the universe in which ultra-relativistic plasmas can be studied. Pulsars emit highly coherent beams of radio waves which are detected as a series of pulses as the neutron star rotates and the beam sweeps by the Earth. The physics that underlie the emission mechanism is not well understood and is one of the most celebrated unsolved problems in modern astrophysics.

Because neutron stars are so small (~25 km in diameter) and distant (thousands of light years), they cannot be resolved by conventional imaging techniques. However, thanks to the pulsars’ rotation, pulse-by-pulse variations in the observed time series contain information about the spatial structure and dynamics of the emitting relativistic plasma. Pulsar signals are known to exhibit structure on a wide range of timescales, ranging from milliseconds and microseconds and down to nanoseconds (Hankins 1971, Cordes 1981, Hankins et al. 2003), with the finest time structures corresponding to physical structures on the order of metres! Owing to the technical challenges of obtaining high-quality, ultra-high-time resolution recordings of pulsars, the smallest timescales (microsecond and nanosecond) are rarely studied in detail. However, recent advances in instrumentation and software have now made microsecond resolution possible for the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), Australia’s premier pathfinder telescope for the upcoming Square Kilometer Array (SKA). As a well-established instrument for pulsar studies, the MWA is uniquely positioned to become a leader in ultra-high time resolution studies of the pulsar emission mechanism.

This project will exploit the MWA’s new high-time resolution capabilities to study several bright pulsars in the southern sky, whose micropulses ( microsecond structures) have not previously been studied. The primary focus will be to uncover the physics that govern the dynamics of the relativistic plasma by mapping out the locations of the emitting blobs as they change over time. The frequency structure of micropulses will also be studied over the whole frequency band of the MWA (~80 to 300 MHz), yielding further insights into the underlying plasma physics as well as enabling unprecedented studies of the dispersive properties of the interstellar medium through which the micropulses propagate. 

An Internship opportunity may also be available with this project.

  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Science & Engineering
    • Science courses
    • Engineering courses
    • Western Australian School of Mines (WASM)
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • Merit Based

The annual scholarship package (stipend and tuition fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a.


Successful HDR applicants for admission will receive a 100% fee offset for up to 4 years, stipend scholarships, valued at $28,854 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3.5 years, are determined via a competitive selection process. Applicants will be notified of the scholarship outcome in November 2022. 


For detailed information, visit: Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarships | Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Scholarship Details


All applicable HDR courses

This project is ideal for a candidate with a sound background in physics and astrophysics, and a good exposure to software development and engineering aspects of astronomy. A background in radio astronomy with some research experience is an additional advantage. 

Application process

If this project excites you, and your research skills and experience are a good fit for this specific project, you should contact the Project Lead (listed below in the enquires section) via the Expression of Interest (EOI) form.

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2023


To enquire about this project opportunity that includes a scholarship application, contact the Project lead, Dr Sam McSweeney via the EOI form above.

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