Institute of Astronomy

Research Essay Topics

Research Essays

To help the Postgraduate Admissions Committee identify students well matched to the Ph.D. opportunities available at the Institute of Astronomy, all applicants must submit a short (two-page, maximum 1000 word) research essay. The topics that may be selected are listed below. 

The choice of topic can relate to an applicant’s proposed area of research for the Ph.D. but that is not expected or required. The Admissions Committee will be looking for factors such as evidence of critical evaluation skills and independence of thought. Applicants should therefore, select a topic where they feel best equipped to write. Information may come from a previous completed research internship/project, a particular lecture course or a current masters research project. Shortlisted applicants will be considered for Ph.Ds. in a range of areas that need not be related to the topic of the research essay. If you have identified particular supervisors/research areas for your Ph.D. please include this information in the Reasons for Applying section of the University application form.

Research essay topics

  1. Atmospheric dynamics in exoplanets: Discuss the theoretical framework and observational consequences of atmospheric dynamics in exoplanets.
  2. Observations of Exoplanetary Atmospheres: Discuss the underlying principles behind three independent methods of observing exoplanetary atmospheres.
  3. Identify an open question in our understanding of the formation, evolution, atmospheres, or interiors of planets and describe how this may be addressed by a present/future observational facility or mission (e.g., PLATO, JWST, Mars perseverance etc.). Highlight the theoretical and/or data science tools required to make use of these new observations. 
  4. Discuss how information about exoplanetary systems can be extracted from observations of circumstellar disks at different phases of stellar evolution. Your essay may focus on one phase (e.g., protoplanetary disk, main sequence debris disk or white dwarf disk) or compare what can be inferred at different phases. While the essay should cover both observational and theoretical considerations, the emphasis on each is up to you.
  5. Review observational evidences for the existence of dark matter
  6. Review theoretical and observational evidence for feedback from supermassive black holes on their host galaxies
  7. Astrophysical probes of the nature of dark matter. -- Hydrogen 21-cm line as a probe of primordial star formation.
  8. Reionization -- Later than thought How the hydrogen in universe progressed from substantially neutral to highly ionized-- a process called reionization for short -- is one of the major open questions in Observational Cosmology. Building on the papers Kulkarni et al. and Keating et al. and references therein, describe how observations of the Lyman-alpha forest at redshifts z>5 together with numerical cosmological radiative transfer simulation have been used to constrain the exact timing of how reionization finishes.
  9. Review critically some proposed causes of the observed acceleration of the Universe, perhaps using Sean Carroll’s 2004 review (Carroll 2004) as a starting point.
  10. Review an application of machine learning in astronomy. Describe the scientific problem, the challenges of the astronomical datasets, a machine learning solution, and its performance. Possible topics include, but are not restricted to: (a) photometric redshift estimation, (b) photometric classification of transient light curves, (c) "likelihood-free" or simulation-based inference
  11. Describe current and future opportunities and challenges for the use of Type Ia supernovae as cosmological probes.


The research essays should consist of no more than 1000 words of text although paper references may also be included providing the document still satisfies the two-page length requirement.  The document should be self-contained, with a font no smaller than 11pt, and must fit within two pages. The maximum length is deliberately modest and in most cases it will be necessary to concentrate on particular aspects of a research area or problem. The completed submission must be included as a pdf file when the University application form is filled out.

Page last updated: 2 August 2022 at 12:40