Institute of Astronomy

Part III Research Projects - 2019-20 - may be subject to change

Dates may be subject to change

A compulsory element of the course is a substantial research project, extending over two terms. This is undertaken with the guidance of a supervisor from the Institute of Astronomy. The research project accounts for a third of the total marks available for the course.

Each year the Institute produces a booklet containing descriptions of the individual projects available.  Each entry contains a brief description of the background to the project along with a summary of the type of work involved and several references to where more information can be obtained. Following the project descriptions, details of the timetable, format of the project write-ups and the criteria to be used in the assessment of the projects are included.

Please read the University's guidelines on plagiarism.

Project Timetable  

Michaelmas Term

Computing induction meeting and set up with lecturer will take place on Tuesday, 8 October or Thursday, 10 October. An orientation course (5 lectures) covering unix, the Institute of Astronomy Science Cluster, LaTeX (text-processing facility) and information resources available on-line commences on Monday 14 October 2019.

Choice of up to ten projects, in rank order, should be handed to the Course Secretary by 12 pm on the second Friday of Michaelmas Full Term (18 October 2019). Students who do not supply rank-ordered choices by the deadline will be allocated a project by the Project Coordinator.

Notification of approval of project choice will be made by e-mail no later than the third Tuesday of Michaelmas Full Term (22 October 2019). The equivalent of 3 formal Supervisions will be offered by the Project Supervisor in the Michaelmas Term.

An interim progress report, length no more than 1,000 words, bearing the signature(s) of the main supervisor(s) and second supervisor, must be handed to Fatima Rasool no later than the last day of Michaelmas Full Term (6 December 2019). The report should be produced with LaTeX, or an equivalent text-processing package and may contain material that can be incorporated in the final project report. The interim report must indicate the progress made so far and show preliminary results. It should also give a clear indication of the project aims and a detailed plan of how these aims will be achieved. This is particularly important where the results of the project depend on data that has yet to be analysed. There is no need for the interim report to reiterate the material given in the Project Handbook. The interim reports do not constitute part of the formal assessment but are regarded as an essential part of the monitoring procedure.

Lent Term

The equivalent of 3 formal Supervisions will be offered by the Project Supervisor.

Practice oral presentations, consisting of a 20 minute talk followed by up to 10 minutes of questions, to an audience of Part III Astrophysics students, Project Supervisors and the Project Coordinator will be given on the last Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Lent Term (10, 11, 12, and 13 March 2020). A final timetable for the presentations will be provided by e-mail during the previous week. The presentation is not formally assessed but offers the opportunity to become familiar with the format of the presentation, to be assessed by the Part III Examiners in the Easter Term. Students are encouraged to attend the practise talks of their peers which will help strengthen their presentation techniques. The Project Supervisor's attendance at the informal presentation and subsequent feedback constitutes the fourth and final, Supervision of the Lent Term.

Easter Term

A draft of the final project report, generated with LaTeX or an equivalent text-processing package, should be handed to the Project Supervisor no later than 15 April 2020. This last Supervision, to discuss the draft report, should take place no later than the first Tuesday of Easter Full Term (21 April 2020).

One hard copy of the final project report must be handed in person to the Course Secretary no later than 12pm on the second Tuesday of Easter Full Term (28 April 2020). An electronic copy via email must also be sent to on this date. Late submissions must be submitted via your College Tutor with an accompanying letter of explanation from the Tutor. Your University Examination Number must NOT appear anywhere in the report or on the cover sheet.

A formal, assessed, oral presentation to Part III Astrophysics Examiners will take place on the second  Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of Easter Full Term, 29, 30 April, or 1 May 2020. A final timetable for the presentations will be provided via e-mail during the previous week. The presentation should consist of a 20 minute description of the project with PowerPoint or equivalent on a laptop computer. The presentation will be followed by up to 10 minutes of questions. The Examiners will allocate approximately 15% of the total marks for the project on the basis of the presentation. The NST Part III Astrophysics Examiners meeting takes place on Tuesday 16 June 2020 TBC

Project reports may be collected from the Course Secretary after 9.00 am on Wednesday 17 June 2020.

Project Report Format and Content

The report should read as a self-contained document, presented in the style of a scientific research report or paper in a scientific journal. The main sections of the report will describe the work undertaken, the results obtained and an assessment of their significance. An Abstract, Introduction, Conclusions and References should also be included. Supporting Figures and Tables should be used both as an aid in presenting data and results and also to enhance the clarity of the submission. The report may also include some material in the form of an Appendix subject to the page limits set out below.

The report must be produced with LaTeX, or another text processing  package, and must not exceed 30 pages in length, including Figures, Tables, References and any Appendices. The minimum acceptable font  size is 11pt with at least single line spacing. Figures must be legible when printed on A4 paper. Projects not meeting these requirements will be returned for revision and a penalty may apply for late submission at the discretion of the examiners.

The submission should be logically structured, clear and complete, while remaining concise. The reader should be able to understand the context in which the investigation was undertaken, the main features of the project, the results and how they relate to the advancement of the subject. In addition to the descriptive material, questions a report would be expected to address include, "Why were particular approaches adopted?" - back of the envelope calculations will often be helpful and relevant - "What has been learnt?" and "What information/work would have helped us to learn more?" You should take care to demonstrate that you have tested any analysis packages/codes that you use.

It is a fundamental tenet of scientific research that due acknowledgment is given to the work and ideas of others that form the basis of, or are incorporated in, a research presentation. You must always acknowledge the source of an idea or material you use with a specific reference. Plagiarism, including the use of another individual's ideas, data or text, is regarded as an extremely serious disciplinary offence by the University: for further guidance on what constitutes plagiarism, see   It is a requirement that the project investigation and the project report are both the work of the candidate alone and no form of collaboration is allowed.

Each report must be accompanied by a cover sheet that should bear (1) the title of the project, (2) your name, (3) your college, (4) your home address and (5) a signed declaration that reads:

I declare that this project report represents work undertaken as part of the NST Part III Astrophysics Examination. It is the result of my own work and, includes nothing which was performed in collaboration. No part of the report has been submitted for any degree, diploma or any other qualification at any other university. I also declare that an electronic file containing this work has been sent by email on this date.

Date ..................


If you are in any doubt as to whether you can sign such a declaration you should consult the Part III Coordinator before submitting your report. In the event that your project report is not collected after the Examinations it will be sent to the address provided on the cover sheet.

Guidance on Writing up a Part III Project

First you will have read many research papers in the course of your project research.
Some of these you will have found easy to read an others less so. You therefore already
have a good idea of what makes a good writeup.

It is usual to set out the writeup in sections that include an introduction, a description
of methods, results and conclusions. The introduction should set out the problem to be
solved, including why it is interesting, and previous work done. The methods section
should describe what you have done in sufficient detail that the work can be reproduced
by a reader. It is important to make clear what new work you have done yourself in this
section. In the results section describe what you have found. Try to make it very clear
which are the most interesting outcomes of the project. In the conclusion explain whether
or not you have solved the problem you set out to solve. If so explain how and if not then
why not. You can also describe future work that might get closer to or verify your solution.
There are some points to particularly bear in mind.

1) Remember that your readers may not experts in the field of your project. Begin your
description from basic physical principles and describe how any observations have been

2) Write short sentences. Long and convoluted sentences, with numerous, sub-clauses, are
hard to read and often grammatically incorrect.

3) Use named references, such as (Eggleton, Fitchett and Tout 1989), in the text. This is
the style generally used by astronomers. It is much easier to read than a number reference
style that requires continual cross-referencing.

4) Be concise. Well-written reports do not need to fill the page limit.

5) Include a limited number of pertinent figures. A good figure can replace many words but
many similar figures can often be replaced by a few words. Ensure that axes are labelled
properly, lines are sufficiently thick, that points and labels are in a large enough font and
that the main details of the figure are explained in the caption. Avoid making figures too
cluttered and do not include anything that is not relevant to your discussion.

6) Appendices are for additional reading only. The examiners will base their marking on
the main report.

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