Characterising distant galaxies by way of spectral energy distribution analysis

Science and Engineering Faculty student topic

Study level

Master of Philosophy


Vacation research experience scheme


Science and Engineering Faculty

School of Chemistry and Physics

Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.


Dr Michael Cowley
Astrophysics Research and Teaching Associate
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty

External supervisors

  • Professor Andrew Hopkins, Australian Astronomical Optics


The analysis of galaxies found throughout cosmic time provides us with the means to probe the underlying characteristics of the known universe.

Over the last few decades, new observations of galaxies with various ground and space-based telescopes have provided us with an abundance of multi-wavelength data.

By coupling these observations with theory, spectral energy distribution analysis allows us to derive the intrinsic properties of distant galaxies, which provides constraints for various galaxy formation and evolution scenarios.

During this project, you will have access to the newly released FourStar Galaxy Evolution Survey, which is a catalogue of over 70,000 galaxies spanning 90% of cosmic time.

The survey is comprised of data gathered from the Magellan and Keck ground-based observatories, as well as the Chandra, XMM-Newton, Herschel, Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes.

Research activities

The principle aim of this project is to perform spectral energy distribution (SED) analysis on a sample of distant galaxies.

Specific activities for each project will be tailored to your study level and available time.

Specific project topics include:

Fitting the SEDs of distant galaxies

A galaxy's SED allows us to investigate the distribution of energy over wavelength. Therefore, the SED of a galaxy encodes various processes that drive its evolution.

This project will involve estimating various galaxy parameters, including distance, energy output and supermassive black hole mass from observed SEDs through new fitting procedures and models.

Isolating the nuclear contribution to the observed SED of galaxies

Theory suggests that the nuclear emission from a galaxy's accreting supermassive black hole regulates star formation either by removing or heating the precious star-forming gas.

Therefore, a complete study of galaxy evolution requires a comprehensive understanding of this nuclear contribution.

This project will involve applying and testing a novel approach to isolate the nuclear contribution to the observed SED of a large sample of galaxies.


Upon conclusion of this research, we expect to uncover the physical constraints for various galaxy formation and evolution scenarios, advancing our knowledge in cosmology.

This has the potential to generate high impact factor publications.

You'll also have great networking opportunities with astronomers based in various institutions around the world.

Skills and experience

The analysis and interpretation of the data will involve custom-designed data processing.

Therefore, familiarity with a programming language, such as Python or IDL, is desirable, but not essential.


You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.

Annual scholarship round



Contact the supervisor for more information.