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Third year and Honours projects

You should contact the supervisors of projects you are interested in and meet them to discuss their projects. Once you have decided on a project and have found a supervisor who is prepared to take you on, then email the name of your project and your project supervisor to the project coordinator, Alec Duncan. If you wish to do a project not included in the list, please contact a supervisor in your area of interest.

Project units

  • Physics Project 1 – Core for all streams, available in both semesters
  • Physics Project 2 – Recommended elective for all streams, available in both semesters
  • The preferred option is to take PP1 in semester 1 and PP2 in semester 2 and combine them into a single year-long project.
  • The choice of project may have a big influence on the direction of your career – so this is an important choice!

Project Assessment

  • End of semester report (40%)
  • Supervisor’s assessment of your performance (40%)
  • Oral presentation (PowerPoint or poster) (10%)
  • Written summaries of seminars you have attended (10%)
  • Fortnightly group meetings with supervisor (0%)

Project Process

By the end of the second week in December:

  • Decide what projects you are interested in and go and talk to potential supervisors.
  • Negotiate the details of the project and get an undertaking from the supervisor that they are prepared to take you on.
  • Email Dr Alec Duncan with the title of your project, and the name of your supervisor

Current projects

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Dr Richard Plotkin

A Multiwavelength View of the Most Weakly Accreting Black Holes

The Milky Way is likely littered with over hundreds of millions of ~10 solar-mass black holes, the remnants of the cores from the most massive stars after they explode as supernovae. Yet, observing these black holes is very difficult, and we have so far only identified several dozen.  One of the most common ways we infer the presence of a black hole is if it is located in an “X-ray binary” system, where material from the surface of a comapanion star flows toward the black hole through an accretion disk, thereby emitting large amounts of X-ray radiation. Some X-ray binaries also launch relativistic jets that emit primarily in the radio waveband. To connect the properties of the inflowing material to the outflowing jets requires a multiwavelength approach. In this third year project, the student will focus on an X-ray binary accreting at an extremely low accretion rate (at <10-8 of the Eddington limit), a regime where there are still many unsolved questions.  The student will use data from ground- and space-based telescopes spanning the radio, near-infrared, optical, ultraviolet and X-ray.  By applying an accretion/jet model to the data, the student will explore the physical processes that determine how very low accretion rate systems emit radiation. Results from this project will provide crucial insight to help us learn how to isolate signatures from other weakly accreting black holes that might be lurking in our Galaxy, but that have so far eluded detection.

Dr Sarah White

Black-hole accretion in ‘radio-quiet’ quasars

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a next-generation radio telescope that will allow us to detect sources with very faint radio emission. This includes ‘radio-quiet’ quasars (RQQs), which are supermassive black-holes that accrete material very efficiently. These black holes reside in host galaxies, whose star-formation processes are thought to be the origin of the quasars’ radio emission. However, black-hole accretion also produces radio emission, and recent work argues that this process actually dominates the emission in RQQs. In this project we will investigate the significance of this accretion component, in terms of its fraction of the total emission across all faint radio sources (i.e. normal star-forming galaxies, without an accreting black-hole at the centre, in addition to RQQs). This is crucial research, as it is currently expected that the total radio emission of such sources can be included in determining the star-formation history of the Universe. For this work, Python scripts are already in place but will require some editing before they can be run over a new, deeper radio image. A fairly straight-forward paper should result, with the student as a co-author. Please do email if you have any questions.

A/Prof James Miller-Jones

Black hole jets blowing bubbles

Some of the most powerful black holes known in the local Universe are found in systems known as Ultraluminous X-ray sources. These non-nuclear X-ray sources in external galaxies are believed to be powered by black holes of up to a few tens of times the mass of the Sun, accreting at rates well above the theoretical limit for mass infall known as the Eddington luminosity. These high accretion rates lead to very bright X-ray emission, from which this class of sources take their name. As well as the copious amounts of radiation they emit in the X-ray band, these sources can also launch powerful jets from the regions close to the black hole. These jets can carry away significant amounts of energy, which is then deposited into the surroundings, and can inflate a nebula around the source, which can be up to several hundred parsecs in size. In this project you will analyse deep radio observations of one of these bubble nebulae, aiming to determine its physical properties and thereby place constraints on the power of the jets from this system.

Dr Nick Seymour

Calibrating the Radio Emission from SFGs at High Redshift

Tracing the global star formation rate of galaxies as a function of time is key observation which underpins models of galaxy evolution. Radio emission is great tracer of star formation rate as it is unaffected by absorption by gas or dust, and the radio luminosity is directly related to the star formation rate. With the Square Kilometre Array and its precursors coming online deep radio surveys will soon provide our best measure of the star formation history of the Universe. This project will use a small sample of well studied star forming galaxies at high redshift, which have well measured star formation rates, and compare these to the radio luminosity. This work will ensure how well radio luminosity tracers star formation at high redshift and provide a benchmark for future deep radio surveys.

Dr Ramesh Bhat

Finding the closest pulsar with the MWA

*** Summer project only ***

Numerous surveys undertaken over the past several decades have resulted in the discoveries of over 2500 pulsars, more than 90% of which are located at distances ranging from a few to several kilo parsecs.  The integrated electron column density along the sight line from the Earth to the pulsar is called the dispersion measure (DM) and serves as a useful proxy for pulsar distance. Currently the closest known pulsar has a DM of 2.4 (in units of parsecs per centimeter cubed) and an inferred distance of ~130 parsecs. A candidate signal at a much lower DM was detected from observations made with the Gauribidanur telescope, but was poorly localized on sky along declination. In this project you will undertake a systematic analysis of observations made with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), spanning the highly elongated error box of the candidate signal. Data processing will involve making a linear grid comprising a large number of sensitive pencil beams by reprocessing the raw voltage data and searching for periodic pulsations at the expected DM. If confirmed, this will be the closest pulsar ever known, with important implications for pulsar searches at low frequencies.

Dr Ramesh Bhat

Millisecond pulsars at low frequencies

The extreme rotational stability of millisecond pulsars (MSPs) makes them nature’s most accurate clocks – a property that can be exploited for advancing a wide range of physics and astrophysics including measuring neutron star masses, testing the theories of gravity, and pulsar timing array (PTA) experiments that aim to detect ultra-low frequency (nanoHertz) gravitational waves. Fortuitously, some of most stable MSPs are located in the Southern sky, where our current prime facility for pulsar astronomy – the Parkes 64m radio telescope in NSW – limits their studies to frequencies above ~700 MHz. The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in WA, operating at 80 – 300 MHz, thus offers an excellent opportunity to make the first low-frequency detections of these MSPs. In this project, you will analyse archival and new observations of MSP fields made with the MWA, focusing on objects that are most promising for timing-array applications. Observations with the MWA will allow studying their emission properties and characterising the interstellar medium along the sight lines, and may potentially lead to better timing precision by measuring and calibrating interstellar propagation delays; this is particularly important in the context of the upcoming Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the low-frequency component of which is to be built in Australia.

Dr Ramesh Bhat

Probing the local interstellar medium with pulsars

Pulsars make excellent probes of the interstellar medium (ISM) of our Galaxy through a rich variety of interstellar propagation phenomena their signals are subjected to. Besides the familiar dispersion, these include scintillation (the radio analogue of twinkling) and pulse broadening, which arise from multi-path propagation through the turbulent ISM.  Magnitudes of all these effects scale steeply with the wavelength of observation and therefore they are strongest at the frequencies in which the MWA operates. Pulsars located within a few kilo parsecs are the most amenable for such studies with the MWA. In this project you will build an inventory of all relevant published measurements as well as the new ones to be obtainable from the MWA, with the prime goal of probing the local interstellar medium (LISM), i.e. the region within about a kilo parsec of the Sun. Observational evidences suggest that the LISM is highly atypical and complex in nature; the most prominent features being an elongated X-ray emitting cavity called the Local Hot Bubble and its nearest neighbour, the Loop I. By combining measurements from MWA with similar ones to be obtainable from German LOFAR stations, you will revisit the current model for the structure of the LISM and develop a more sophisticated one, which will be of great interest to both pulsar and ISM researchers alike, besides leading to a better understanding of our local interstellar environment.

Dr Nick Seymour

Search for High Redshift Clusters with WISE

Clusters of galaxies are unique laboratories in which to study the evolution and formation of the most massive old, red and dead galaxies. Finding young massive clusters is difficult especially as they are rare. Previous work has identified a technique to isolate distant star forming galaxies at redshifts of around z~0.8 using NASA’s Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope. The epoch of z~0.8 corresponding to a distance of 5 Gpc when the Universe was about half of it’s present age. This project will search for spatial over densities of these z~0.8 star forming galaxies with the goal of finding clusters at the peak of their formation.

Dr Nick Seymour

Searching for Giant Radio Galaxies with MWA and GMRT

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a powerful low frequency radio telescope which has recently released its first full survey of the southern sky. The MWA has unique sensitivity to extended radio emission and hence within it’s first data release it will include large numbers of giant radio galaxies. Giant radio galaxies are a unique class of radio galaxies with extents greater than 1 Mpc, they are typically found in under denser environments and hence are great probes of powerful AGN activity out of galaxy clusters and groups. This project will use a unique method to combine MWA data with higher resolution data from the Giant Metre Radio Telescope (GMRT) in order to search for such sources by producing images with greater sensitivity and higher resolution than MWA alone.

Dr Nick Seymour

Searching for Gravitationally Lensed Galaxies from Radio/Infrared Surveys

Many bright infrared/millimetre sources from recent surveys are found to be very high redshift star forming galaxies which are magnified by the gravitational lensing of a single foreground galaxy. This galaxy-galaxy lensing allows us to study very distant galaxies in far greater detail were they not magnified. However, selecting which infrared/millimetre sources are likely to be lensed becomes harder at fainter fluxes as a larger fraction of these sources are regular lower redshift galaxies. This project will investigate a new method to discover high redshift lensed galaxies from radio and infrared/millimetre surveys regardless of high bright they are. This project will start with models to refine the technique, then investigate how well known lensed high redshift sources are recovered. The project will conclude by finding a sample of new lensed galaxy candidates and developing a plan to follow-up them up with existing or future data.

Dr Marcin Sokolowski and Dr Randall Wayth

Testing impact of out-of-band radio-frequency interference on BIGHORNS and MWA data

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) is located in a remote area of Western Australia where a Radio Quiet Zone (RQZ) has been established in order to ensure high quality data. It currently hosts several radio telescopes including Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), BIGHORNS, EDGES and several prototypes for the SKA-low telescope. Although the MRO is in a designated radio quiet zone with significant regulatory protections, radio-frequency interference (RFI) from aircraft and satellite (i.e. ORBCOMM communication satellites) transmitters is often observed and can be relatively powerful. Using any possible data from BIGHORNS system or other measurements (we have a week of independent RFI measurements too), we would like if relatively powerful transmissions from ORBCOMM satellites (~137.5 MHz) or aircraft (~120-130 MHz) have any effect on data collected at different frequency bands with MWA, BIGHORNS or SKALA antennas. Possible extension of the project is to write a software flagging MWA data based on out-of-band data from RFI monitors (initially BIGHORNS).

A/Prof James Miller-Jones

The evolving magnetic fields of black hole jets

Black holes in close orbits with less-evolved stars can strip matter off their stellar companions. To conserve angular momentum, that matter builds up in a disc around the black hole. When that disc gets massive enough, an instability causes the viscosity to change, allowing some of the matter to lose angular momentum and spiral inwards, dramatically increasing the mass infall rate onto the black hole. The system then undergoes an explosive outburst event, becoming several orders of magnitude brighter across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The accretion disc shines brightly in X-rays, and some of the matter can be accelerated outwards in oppositely-directed jets, which travel at close to the speed of light. These jets emit synchrotron radiation, which we can observe with radio telescopes. By observing the polarization of the radio waves, we can infer the orientation of the magnetic fields in the jets, which can be compared with high-resolution images to determine the field structure. In this project you will analyse data from the brightest black hole X-ray binary outburst of the past two decades, the 2015 outburst of the system V404 Cygni. You will investigate the polarized emission over a four-hour period of detailed monitoring, to determine how the magnetic field evolved as the source underwent a series of bright flaring events.

Environmental Physics

Prof. David Antoine, Remote Sensing and Satellite Research Group (RSSRG).

Prof David Antoine specializes in the use of satellites and in situ optical data to understand oceanic processes and their links to climate and environmental changes. This work is largely based on data from NASA and ESA satellites, and our findings feedback into processing algorithms for these missions.

A number of Earth observation satellites orbit around our Planet, carrying “radiometers”. These instruments record the spectral radiance at the top of the atmosphere, which, after appropriate corrections, provides the spectral reflectance of the upper ocean layer. From the spectral changes of this reflectance, one can derive a number of key environmental quantities, such as the chlorophyll content of phytoplankton (the primary producers of the sea, underlying essentially all oceanic food webs), the sediment load (e.g., as produced by dredging operations), or the absorption by coloured dissolved organic matters (those substances that make the Swan river look like tea).

Key to using satellite is having in situ data. Prof. Antoine has obtained a unique time series of optical data in the Mediterranean Sea through the deployment of a large bio-optical Mooring. (BOUSSOLE:

Two of the proposed projects provide examples of questions that could be tackled with the use of satellite remote sensing and the BOUSSOLE time series during a 3rd year project.

Validation of satellite observations off Rottnest Island, Perth

The RSSRG has got an ARC funding to deploy a profiling mooring off Rottnest Island, Perth. This new equipment will collect vertical profiles several times a day of optical and biological properties of waters at that site. The data set will allow deriving the water reflectance, which can then be compared to the same parameter as delivered by satellite remote sensing instruments, in particular the “Ocean and Land Colour Imager” (OLCI) launched in 2016 by the European Space Agency (ESA) onboard the Sentinel-3 satellite. The work will consist in processing the profiling mooring data set, assembling them with the corresponding data from the satellite observations, and evaluating how well they match. The results will be communicated to the “Sentinel validation team”, which is an international group of scientists working on the global evaluation of the quality of OLCI products, under ESA leadership.

Anomalies of optical properties in the Mediterranean Sea

Optical properties of oceanic waters are determined by seawater itself and by any particulate or dissolved substance that has an impact on either light absorption or scattering or both. Changes in these optical properties explain why the colour of oceanic waters varies from deep blue (open ocean, low phytoplankton content) to various tones of green (closer to the coast, with increasing levels of phytoplankton), and to brown when sediments are suspended into the upper layers. The domain of understanding how ocean optical properties are related to the presence of particles and dissolved substances of biological origin is called bio-optics. Interpretation of satellite ocean colour observations is based on so-called bio-optical algorithms. Average relationships have been established at the scale of the global ocean, for instance between the ocean spectral reflectance and the concentration of chlorophyll, which is a pigment present in all phytoplankton species. Local deviations from such global relationships exist, however, and lead to misinterpretation of the satellite signals. Here we propose to quantify such “anomalies” from a >10 years time series of optical measurements performed at a fixed site in the Mediterranean Sea (the “BOUSSOLE” time series), and possibly to identify their causes.

Scales of variations of phytoplankton off WA

Physical and biological properties of oceanic waters off Western Australia (WA) are largely influenced by the Leeuwin Current (LC), which is the major southward flow of warm, low-salinity tropical waters along WA coasts. It varies on inter-annual to decadal time scales, in particular under influence of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Mesoscale eddies in the Leeuwin Current have profound influence on temperature and chlorophyll distributions in the region. For example, the warm-core eddies that spin off from the LC have a significant effect on the level of productivity in the mid-west region. Here we propose to study the spatial and temporal scales of variation of phytoplankton and primary productivity off WA through the use of NASA satellite ocean colour remote sensing products and a model of phytoplankton photosynthesis. Archives of such products date back to 1998 and, therefore, allow studying seasonal, inter-annual and decadal changes.

Ocean properties along the Antarctic circumpolar Expedition

An international expedition is currently under preparation, which will navigate around the Southern Ocean during 3 months (Dec 2016-March 2017). It is called the “Antarctic Circumpolar Expedition”. In partnership with many international collaborators including NASA scientists, we plan to equip the ship with optical instrumentation in view of better understanding these properties in this under-sampled ocean, and to use the data to validate what the satellites see there. In preparation for this expedition, it is proposed here to evaluate the type of oceanic waters that the expedition might encounter, based on predicted trajectories of the ship, and on satellite observations of parameters such as the sea-surface temperature and the phytoplankton biomass.

Non-meteorological use of the Japanese Geostationary sensor “Himawarii-8”

The Japanese Space and Meteorological Agencies have recently launched a geostationary satellite that takes observations of the Earth disk including Australia every 10 minutes. It is called “Himawarii-8”.  Although this mission primarily aims at meteorological applications, the characteristics of the sensor likely allow the determination of some ocean properties, such as the sediment concentration in large river plumes or dredging plumes. The high frequency of observations allows processes to be much better observed as compared to what can be done with more classical orbiting sensors. Here we propose to explore this possibility, using available Himawarii data, and bio-optical models developed in our group. The work will include comparison with NASA sensors that form a reference to which this new Japanese sensor can be evaluated.

Dr Peter Fearns

Dr. Peter Fearns specializes in remote sensing methods to monitor the Earth’s environment. Recent projects have included airborne hyperspectral surveys of Ningaloo and Shark Bay, collaboration with NASA to map the Great Barrier Reef, monitoring toxic algae in the Swan River using a boat-based sensor, and mapping Marri tree flowering to support the honey industry using a drone!

Projects usually require students to have some computer programming capability and sometimes an ability to deploy instruments in the field.

Monitoring reef water quality off the coast of Miri

Researchers at the Curtin Miri campus in Indonesia are keen to collaborate with us to map turbid river outflows that impact the coastal reef systems. This project will build on work already undertaken in the WAMSI Dredge Science Node which developed advanced methods to monitor turbid dredge plumes using MODIS, Landsat and WorldView-2 sensors.

Testing a low power laser for bathymetry mapping

Bathymetric mapping in shallow coastal waters can be efficiently carried out using airborne LIDAR, however to obtain higher resolution data over small regions the cost of flying a plane is prohibitive. This project will test the potential of a low power off-the-shelf laser as the first phase of a project to develop a LIDAR system for deployment using a drone.

Wetland and mangrove monitoring from space

In collaboration with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, we will aim to improve the accuracy of Landsat based mapping of wetlands and mangroves. The project will require a student with competent programming ability.


If you have an idea that you think might involve remote sensing, please feel free to come and discuss it. We can design a project to suit your interests.

Dr Alec Duncan

Underwater acoustics

I carry out research in the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST). My main area of interest is underwater acoustics, although I also dabble in underwater vehicles, oceanography, musical acoustics, and signal processing in general.

Acoustic particle velocity sensors

Underwater sound measurements are usually carried out using hydrophones that measure sound pressure, however fish and some other marine animals sense the motion of water particles caused by the sound waves instead.  Sensing particle velocity is more difficult than sensing pressure but has the advantage of indicating the direction the sound wave is travelling in, and for environmental applications provides a direct measure of what animals with this type of hearing are sensing.  The aim of this project is to develop and characterise an accelerometer based particle velocity sensor suitable for use in a laboratory tank.

Modelling mechanical stresses in animals exposed to very loud underwater sounds (with Assoc. Prof. Rob McCauley)

The aim of this project is to model the internal mechanical stresses in marine species such as zooplankton, shellfish and fish that result when these animals are subject to the very loud sounds produced by the airgun arrays that are used for offshore seismic exploration.  This would involve the application of analytical and numerical techniques of increasing sophistication, and has direct application to current concerns about the environmental impacts of these surveys.

Using propeller noise as a sound source for subbottom profiling

Boat propellers generate high levels of underwater noise over a wide frequency range. It should be possible to use this noise as a sound source for a simple sonar that would provide information about the layering of sediments in the top few metres of the seabed. A preliminary experiment, carried out in 2009, showed some promise, and it would be good to develop this idea further.

Characterising variations in the sound speed profile in the ocean off Perth

The change in sound speed with depth in the ocean has a big effect on the propagation of underwater sound, so it is important to understand its variability in order to be able to predict the resulting variability in the performance of acoustic instruments such as sonars and underwater communications systems.  Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) has a number of moorings off Perth that have been collecting data since mid 2009 (see This project would involve analysing these data sets in order to characterise the temporal and spatial variations in the sound speed profile and relating these to oceanographic phenomena such as eddies and internal waves. The influence of these variations on the propagation of underwater sound could also be investigated.

Physics of sound production in whales (with Prof. Sasha Gavrilov)

Several species of whales produce intense, lowfrequency sounds of quite long duration while fully submerged. However, it isn’t clear how they achieve this feat. The aim of this project would be to come up with a physics based model of how whales produce these sounds.

Dr Christine Erbe

Ship noise in Australian marine habitats

The marine soundscape can be split into its biophony (the sounds of whales, dolphins, fish, crustaceans etc.), geophony (the sounds of wind, rain, waves, ice etc.) and anthrophony (the sounds of human/industrial operations). Ship traffic is the most persistent source of man-made noise in the marine environment—with potentially significant bioacoustic impacts on marine fauna, most of which rely heavily on acoustics for their critical life functions. CMST has recorded the marine soundscape around Australia for 15 years at various sites. Using publicly available position logs of large vessels, we can 1) compute received levels of individual ships, 2) calculate source levels of individual ships by sound propagation modeling, and 3) determine the contribution of shipping to the local noise budgets. This project will suit a mathematically skilled student with some experience in scientific software development, data analysis and numerical modeling. An acoustic background is NOT necessary.

Black Cockatoos Calling

We are looking for two Honours students interested in studying cockatoo acoustics for a year. Black cockatoos, Calyptorhynchus sp., are endangered and specially protected in Western Australia. There is a regular citizen science survey, called the Great Cocky Count, which has provided crucial information on black cockatoo populations.

Cockatoos are noisy. They produce sounds that differ by species, age, gender and behaviour. We want to explore whether passive acoustic listening can provide additional data on population size, distribution and demographics. We have preliminary recordings of Carnaby’s cockatoos near the Curtin University Bentley campus, and of red-tailed black cockatoos in John Forrest National Park. The Honours students will be involved in additional field work, including recordings and visual observations, establish a call repertoire of these two species, correlate calls with behaviour and demographic parameters, and potentially look at changes in calling behaviour as a function of human disturbance.

The bioacoustic repertoire of Australian striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba)

Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) are an offshore, pelagic species of dolphin, which are most commonly seen along the edge of the continental shelf or over deep-water canyons. We have little information about the Australian population. Threats are direct catches, fisheries bycatch and pollution. Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science & Technology has photographic and passive acoustic data for this species, and we are looking for a 1-year Honour’s student to study the bioacoustics of Australian striped dolphins, with the overall aim of characterising their sound repertoire to aid long-term passive acoustic monitoring. We are hoping to fill this position as soon as possible, January 2017 the latest. Depending on timing, there might be opportunities for additional field work.

Dr Iain Parnum

Acoustic remote sensing of the marine environment

I carry out research in the Centre for Marine Science and Technology. My main area of interest is underwater acoustics, particularly acoustic remote sensing of the marine environment.


Sonar imaging of sharks and other marine mega fauna

Detection of marine gas seeps using acoustic techniques

A portable passive acoustic array for detecting dolphin whistles and clicks

Temporal variation in acoustic scattering from seagrass


Dr Miles Parsons and Dr Christine Erbe

Variability in acoustic tag performance and detection range

Acoustic tags are increasingly used to track behavioural patterns of numerous marine species, but the longterm performance of the pinging tags and stationary receivers is rarely tested. Biofouling of the receivers, for example, holds potential to significantly reduce performance, affecting the results of marine studies. This project aims to assess directionality, source levels and detection ranges of some acoustic tags in a practical environment and the propagation of their signals. A number of acoustic tag receivers are located at the Mullaloo Beach Lab site. Working in collaboration with Mullaloo Beach Surf LifeSavers tags are to be periodically located in and around the array while tag source levels are also tested. Matlab programming skills will be developed. Kayaking experience preferred.

Dr Andrew Woods

Stereoscopic imaging

Stereoscopic 3D Displays are increasingly being used in a wide range of application areas including scientific visualisation, industrial automation, medical imaging as well as gaming and home entertainment.  The Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) has been conducting research into stereoscopic imaging topics for the past 20+ years. Over the past few years several third year physics students have worked on projects related to 3D displays and have revealed some very interesting results. Projects in this area would interest students with an interest in optics, displays, visualisation, and/or data analysis.

Improving the Spectral Quality of Inks for Low Crosstalk Printed 3D Images

A recent journal paper has identified that spectrally impure inks are a major source of crosstalk in printed anaglyph 3D images. The purpose of this project would be to perform optical measurements on a range of new ink types to find inks which offer better spectral performance for 3D purposes. The project will also involve some sleuthing to investigate whether some new technologies, such as quantum dots, might offer some opportunities for better ink spectral quality. A Matlab program is available which can be used to simulate the 3D performance of different inks types. The project may also offer the opportunity for the student to learn about colour management in printers as another way of improving 3D print quality. The mentioned journal paper found that there is considerable opportunity to improve 3D print quality we just need to test the proposed methods. There is prospect for a conference or journal paper to come out of this work.

Materials Physics

Dr William Rickard

Focussed Ion Beam – Scanning Electron Microscope (FIB-SEM) Project

A FIB-SEM combines nanometre resolution imaging with precision patterning of a focussed ion beam enabling the instrument to manipulate a sample at very fine length scales. The Tescan Lyra FIB-SEM, located within the John de Later Centre at Curtin University, is a state-of-the-art instrument that is used for advanced microanalysis in 2D and 3D as well as high precision site-selective sample preparation.

Surface analyses (electron and ion imaging, chemical mapping (EDS), crystallographic mapping (EBSD)), sub-surface analyses (3D imaging, 3D EDS, 3D EBSD) and unique in-situ ToF-SIMS analyses are able to be correlated with site specific atom probe tomography or TEM results which enables a thorough characterisation of highly complex materials on a wide range of length scales.

In this project the student will get trained to operate the FIB-SEM and will run a series of experiments in order to optimise the data collection and data analysis methods for 3D imaging and 3D microanalysis. Other projects involving the ToF-SIMS will also be available.

Dr David Saxey

Atom Probe Tomography

Unlike other microscopy techniques, Atom Probe Tomography works by dis-assembling materials one atom at a time, and then using software to reconstruct their original 3D locations and chemical identities. It is a powerful tool for the characterisation of materials, being unique in its ability to provide three-dimensional chemical information on the atomic scale. Although the technique has existed for some time, the past ten years have seen a rapid uptake by laboratories around the world, with 70-80 machines now installed. The range of materials studied has also grown; from metal alloys, to semiconductor device structures, ceramics, and more recently geological materials.

The Geoscience Atom Probe facility, housed within the John de Laeter Centre, operates the first atom probe microscope to be dedicated to geoscience work. As such, there are many new and interesting applications within this field, and many opportunities for original research into outstanding scientific problems. In addition to these applications, the physics of the technique itself is also an active area of research, with open questions surrounding the ionisation and evaporation processes involved in removing atoms from the sample under extremely high electric fields. There are also interesting problems in the analysis of the 3D chemical datasets, which can range in size beyond 10^8 atoms.

We are providing a number of opportunities for interested students to contribute to projects within the Geoscience Atom Probe facility, which would include the acquisition of atom probe data, as well as analysis and interpretation of the datasets. There are also opportunities to develop techniques and analysis tools to provide new methods of extracting information from the 3D data.

Read further details on the Geoscience Atom Probe facility 

Prof Charlie Ironside

FIB for Fab

Micro and nano fabrication is a key enabling technique for many aspects of electronics, photonics and biotechnology. Much of modern technology relies on micro and nanofabrication including the CMOS devices used in mobile phones and laptops. Plus nanofabrication is now extensively employed to explore new nanostructures that reveal the quantum nature of the physics underlying many novel devices. In this project we will explore the use of focussed ion beams (FIB) for creating novel nanostructures. The FIB tool can be used mill features less than 100 nm on a variety of materials making it a very versatile tool for quick prototyping of new nanofabricated devices and structures. We will use FIB to make structures with features less than 1 micron on 2 dimensional semiconductors such as grapheme and Gallium Selenide (GaSe) and on optical fibres.

Dr Mark Aylmore and Kelly Merigot

TIMA Project

With the addition of our newest Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (FESEM), which is a Tescan Integrated Mineral Analyser (TIMA) fitted with four Energy Dispersive x-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) detectors. The TIMA is specialised towards high throughout mineral liberation analysis. Recent developments in EDS detectors and software have made fast chemical mapping possible. The TIMA uses x-rays to identify the elements that make up the sample being analysed and then compares the collected spectra to a phase database to produce a mineral distribution map. The composition can be determined quickly, though careful consideration must be made as to the sample preparation.

The parameters for EDS mapping have yet to be thoroughly investigated and verified. The project is designed to test the quality of results collected under various conditions and how the collection conditions control the outputs such as minimum grain size analysed. This project would involve an initial period of training to operate the microscope, followed by data collection and comparison of the results. The practical application of this project will be an improved methodology for mineral liberation analysis for all future users of this instrumentation.

Dr Mark Tucker, A/Prof Nigel Marks

Nanodiamond synthesis using a pulsed plasma source

Nanometre sized diamonds are a scientifically and technologically important form of carbon. They are also present in large quantities in primitive meteorites, but the means by which they form is uncertain. Our computer simulations have shown that nanodiamonds can be generated from spherical shells known as carbon onions. This project investigates this process in the laboratory using a novel pulsed plasma synthesis technique. Thin coatings of nanodiamonds will be synthesised using a newly commissioned ultrahigh vacuum system coupled to a custom built power supply delivering 0.7 MW peak output. Samples will be analysed with a variety of characterisation techniques including atomic force microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and electron microscopy. Key questions to answer include how to characterise the plasma in order to optimise production of carbon onions, and the development of a filter to separate the onions from unwanted atoms and ions.

Dr Mark Tucker, A/Prof Nigel Marks

Ultra-thin coatings for hard disks

The read/write head on a hard disk hovers several nanometres above the recording media and protected from corrosion by an ultra-thin (less than 2 nm) amorphous carbon coating. Ever-increasing storage densities require even thinner coatings, and future technologies are likely to introduce severe thermal requirements driven by laser light passing through the coating. This project will explore the properties of ultra-thin carbon deposited using High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering, a new technology which contains a large flux of ionised carbon. Coatings will be analysed for their diamond-like (sp3) bonding fraction, Raman spectrum, surface chemistry, density and surface roughness. The project will also use scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy to examine (and minimise) carbon particles which are detrimental to the operation of the hard disk.

Dr Irene Suarez-Martinez, A/Prof Nigel Marks

Structural models for activated carbons

Activated carbons are man-made nanoporous materials synthesized from virtually any carbonaceous precursor such as wood, coal or sugars. They are routinely used as absorbers in gas masks, tobacco filters and water purifiers and are often known as carbon molecular sieves. Despite their numerous applications in industry, very little is known about their structure and the few atomic-scale models available in the literature are rather poor. The broad goal of this project is the development of a computer-based nanoscale model for non-graphitizing carbons which can be used for analysis and prediction of absorbent properties of activated carbons. A variety of specific projects to achieve this objective are available, including molecular dynamics annealing simulations to understand graphitisation, quantum mechanical calculations of oxygen adsorption to assess reactivity during activation, and grand canonical monte carlo simulations of adsorption isotherms used to quantify porosity.

A/Prof Nigel Marks

Atomic polishing of diamond with argon clusters

Atomically flat surfaces are fundamentally important in surface science and for the fabrication of electronic devices. Large, perfectly flat terraces are easily achieved for silicon by rapid thermal annealing or ‘flashing’, but this approach fails for diamond since heating creates graphitic domains. Motivated by the new Xray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) facility in Physics, this project will use computer simulation to explore the feasibility of smoothing the diamond surface using an argon cluster beam. The simulations will explore determine whether controlled Ar clusters can remove single atoms, carbon dimers and step edges by exploring the parameter space of cluster size, kinetic energy and incident angle. Experiments on real diamond samples would follow should the simulations suggest the process is viable, using the argon cluster beam on the XPS system in conjunction with XPS and atomic force microscopy.

Dr Irene Suarez-Martinez, A/Prof Nigel Marks

Junctions between Graphene and Nanotubes

Over the last 15 years a plethora of carbon nanostrutures have been developed using graphene and nanotubes as building blocks. One of the landmark concepts is a car-park-style structure in which widely-spaced graphene sheets are linked by carbon nanotubes arranged at right-angles. Recent experiments have shown that nanotubes and graphene can connect at other angles, as long as they are multiples of 30 degrees, and computer models have been developed here at Curtin to illustrate the process. The goal of this project is to explore these junctions in atomistic detail, in particular the nature of the non-hexagonal bonding at the “elbow point” of the junction. The project would primarily use molecular dynamics methods to explore the energetics of the junction, supported by quantum mechanical calculations if necessary.

A/Prof Nigel Marks

Radiation Damage in Graphite & Diamond

High energy particles incident onto a solid typically create a collision cascade in which a large number of atoms are displaced from their lattice sites. Understanding such processes is central to many situations, including nuclear reactors, ion accelerators and particle detectors. Recent work here at Curtin has shown that both graphite and diamond behave in a rather unusual manner. Instead of displaying a liquid-like region, as in most metals and oxide, the collision cascade contains isolated defects distributed along fractal-like trajectories. Many explanations for this behaviour have been proposed, including the low mass of carbon, the crystal structure itself, the density, and the thermal conductivity. To identify which explanation is responsible, molecular dynamics simulations will be performed on a variety of structures and systems; some of the simulations will directly mimic the laboratory, while others will be virtual experiments that have no physical counterpart, such as increasing the mass of carbon atoms.

Interatomic Potentials for Carbon

Dr Carla de Tomas, Dr Irene Suarez-Martinez, A/Prof Nigel Marks

The heart of a successful molecular dynamics simulation is the selection of an appropriate interatomic potential for the calculation of forces and energies. Carbon has proved one of the most difficult elements to describe due its flexible bonding and long-range interactions. More than 40 different potentials have been proposed for carbon, and yet there is no single resource available to compare their performance. This project will use high-performance computers at the Pawsey Centre to perform benchmarking on large carbon systems, specifically regarding amorphization and graphitisation. The data will contribute to an established project using a combination of traditional journal articles and an online comparison tool to enable researchers from around the world to evaluate carbon potentials. Students with particular high levels of skills in computer simulation can consider a whole new data slice, such as calculation of elastic constants or simple carbon nanostructures.

Prof Craig Buckley, Dr Drew Sheppard

Hydrogen Storage Properties in:

  • Magnesium nanoparticles and magnesium alloys
  • Aluminium nanoparticles and aluminium alloys
  • Materials for concentrated solar thermal applications
  • Borohydrides
  • Microporous frameworks
  • Materials hydrided and synthesised using supercritical fluids
  • Low wt.% materials for static and heavy transport applications.

Concerns over greenhouse gas emissions from over 1.1 billion vehicles worldwide has led to extensive research into alternative fuels. Facile production and innocuous emissions mean that hydrogen has emerged as one of the leading alternatives. Hydrogen is an ideal energy source, since it contains more chemical energy per weight than any hydrocarbon fuel, and when combined with oxygen in a hydrogenoxygen fuel cell, the only product is water. Given the concern over environmental pollution and the diminishing reserves of hydrocarbons, hydrogen would make the ideal replacement fuel for petroleum. The HSRG aims to produce technologically viable new hydrogen storage materials that will meet the ground transportation and static applications associated with a transition to a solar hydrogen economy. Given the necessity of the international community to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels it is no longer a question of will a transition to the solar hydrogen economy occur, but when? The HSRG is part of Curtin’s Fuels Energy and Technology Institute (FETI) and is well positioned to contribute significantly to this present and future transition.

Materials that are currently being tested as hydrogen storage candidates include magnesium nanoparticles and alloys, aluminium nanoparticles and alloys, Mg and Li Borohydrides, microporous frameworks and a range of materials using supercritical fluids to assist the hydriding processes. Also low wt.% materials for static and heavy transport applications are being studied. New research is envisaged for all these materials. The quantity of hydrogen physiabsorbed or chemiabsorbed into the above materials will be measured using the recently acquired “Facility for studying the sorption properties of gases by nanostructured materials” and our in house manometric apparatus (3 off). The student would be required to conduct a literature search on the hydrogen storage properties of the specific material, learn all aspects of the operation of the manometric apparatus, and the necessary calculations required to determine the hydrogen storage capacity. The laboratory is well equipped with a state of the art glovebox, cryomill, centrifuge, residual gas analyser, high temperature furnaces, induction furnace and high pressure (to 2 kbar) supercritical equipment for synthesizing new samples. Xray diffraction (XRD), small angle Xray scattering (SAXS) as well as electron microscopy studies will be employed to determine the nano and atomic structure of the materials.

This area of research began at Curtin University in 2002 and is becoming increasingly important especially in light of climate change and the need to find replacements for fossil fuels. The HSRG is managed by Professor Buckley and is staffed by 3 Post Doctoral researchers, 5 PhD students and several third and Honours year students. If you want to be part of an expanding group conducting research on one of the planet’s most pressing problems please contact Professor Craig Buckley. The above projects will be tailored to a Third year or Honour’s level. A good student can expect to publish their research in an International Journal.

Mathematical Physics

Students interested in computational or theoretical physics are encouraged to consider projects in the Theoretical Physics Group. This is a research intensive group, which was (2007-2013) a node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for AntimatterMatter Studies. It specialises in the field of Quantum Collision Physics. Such processes occur all around us, and include all chemical reactions. More specifically, our area of expertise is for projectiles, which include electrons, positrons, photons, protons and antiprotons, colliding with atoms, ions and molecules. Applications include astrophysics, fusion energy, lighting, material and medical diagnostics.

Presently, there is considerable demand from astrophysicists and fusion physicists for the generation of electron/positron-atom/molecule collision data. Depending on the student’s background knowledge and scope of the project, individual research projects will range from data generation and evaluation, utilising super computer facilities, through to extending the computational capacity to be able to tackle new collision problems. The expectation is that the research outcomes would be published in the best physics journals. The specific details of the project will be determined by discussion with the particular staff of the Theoretical Physics Group. Some examples are listed below.

Prof Alisher Kadyrov and Prof Igor Bray
Physics of proton therapy

Proton therapy is used to destroy deep-seated cancer cells. It can precisely target the location, size and shape of the tumour, limiting damage to surrounding healthy tissue. When fired into living tissue, a beam of protons deposits most of its energy at a very specific depth that depends on its initial energy. This makes minimal damage to surrounding organs in front of the tumour while delivering almost zero radiation after the tumour. Such precision is not possible with other radiation treatments such as xray therapy. Proton therapy requires careful treatment planning based on theoretical depthdose simulations with a mm accuracy. The aim of the project is to develop a practical, efficient, and accurate theory of heavy ion collisions with biologically important molecules and provide a computer code for radiation dose calculations in hadron therapy of deepseated cancerous tumours.


  • Review the literature.
  • Learn how to use supercomputers to run locally developed codes.
  • Calculate stopping power for protons in soft and hard tissue.

Prof Alisher Kadyrov and Prof Igor Bray
Antihydrogen formation in antiproton collisions with rydberg positronium

Cross sections for antihydrogen formation are of particular interest to the ALPHA collaboration, which requires the production of near zeroenergy antihydrogen. Production of slow antihydrogen atoms is one of the prerequisites for experimental verification of the materantimater equivalence principle. There are two experiments with antihydrogen planned for the near future at CERN, AEGIS (Antihydrogen Experiment: Gravity, Interferometry, Spectroscopy) and GBAR (Gravitational Behaviour of Antihydrogen at Rest). The aim of these experiments is to measure the freefall of antihydrogen in order to make direct measurements of the freefall acceleration constant of antimatter in the gravitational field of Earth. To observe the free fall the antihydrogen has to be created at rest or cooled to extremely low energies (a few neV). With new developments in antiproton cooling techniques cryogenic temperatures became achievable.

Therefore, formation of antihydrogen in ultra-low energy positronium-antiproton collisions with its very large cross section emerges as a primary source of antihydrogen. Antihydrogen can be created with the use of antiprotonpositronium collisions. Large cross sections are achieved when positronium is in a Rydberg state. The aim of the project is to use the two-center convergent close coupling (CCC) method to model antiproton collisions with Rydberg positronium and calculate the antihydrogen formation crosssections at ultra low energies.


  • Review the literature.
  • Learn how to use supercomputers to run locally developed codes.
  • Calculate total cross sections for antihydrogen formation at low energies.

Prof Alisher Kadyrov and Prof Igor Bray
Convergent close coupling approach to nuclear reactions

Understanding of nuclear reaction is of great importance for problems in cosmology and astrophysics, underpinning the distribution of matter in the universe and the evolution of stellar bodies. It also has significant ramifications for nuclear engineering, for example, in producing neutron sources for other research. Despite significant progress in studying nuclear reactions over the last two decades, both theoretically and experimentally, full understanding of the highenergy continuum of quantum states on such processes remains elusive. Using pioneering and highly successful convergent close coupling method from atomic physics, this project aims to create a new formalism that overcomes traditional problems associated with this field and which will be able to properly treat some nuclear reactions that have heretofore proved troublesome.


  • Review the literature.
  • Learn how to use supercomputers to run locally developed codes.
  • Calculate cross sections for deuteron stripping reactions.

Prof Igor Bray and Prof Dmitry Fursa
Collision data for plasma modelling of fusion plasma (ITER)

The Theoretical Physics Group has been engaged in the biggest scientific research project on the planet, which is the building of the next generation fusion reactor known as ITER, see The goal is to produce fusion energy as it happens deep in the core of our Sun. Our contribution has been to provide collision data of interest to the plasma modellers who are trying to understand all of the physics that will follow the fusion process.

Recent example is beryllium: it has been determined that beryllium will be a substantial component of the first wall, and hence reliable electronimpact cross sections for this atom and all of its ions are required by the modellers. Collision data for many more atoms and molecules are required for modelling the ITER plasma. Our aim is to develop a computer code that is capable to model collisions with a much wider number of atoms and molecules than the present version of the CCC code allows for.

An even more difficult task is to extend the CCC code to study collisions with molecules. We are especially interested in the molecules that are present in ITER plasma: BeH, BeH2, Li2, Li_H, etc. We have already developed a computer code that produced the best in the world result for H2+ and H2 molecules and now aim to extend it to more complex systems.

Here are theoretical and code development projects that you can participate:

Electron collisions with atoms

This project will be developed in the framework of the Jmatrix method.

Electron collisions with molecules

The present version of the CCC code will be extended to more complex molecules. A new code based on the Jmatrix method will be developed.


  • Understand what ITER is all about.
  • Understand the physics and the mathematical model behind the computer code.
  • Learn how to use supercomputers to run locally developed computational codes to determine the required data to a required accuracy.
  • Disseminate the data to existing databases for ready access to fusion researchers worldwide.

Prof Igor Bray and Prof Dmitry Fursa
Positron collisions with atoms and molecules

Modelling positron transport in various media is of immense importance for applications as diverse as atmospheric and astrophysical research and studies of radiation damage in tissue. Accurate modelling requires accurate collision data: cross sections for all relevant collision processes. We have developed the best in the world computer code (CCC) to model positron collision processes. The next step is to make the code more general and capable to model collisions with arbitrary atom or molecule. We will have a special emphasis on study of the collisions with biologically important atoms and molecules.


  • Review various applications of positrons
  • Understand the physics and the mathematical model behind the computer code.
  • Learn how to use supercomputers to run locally developed computational codes to determine the required data to a required accuracy.
  • Disseminate the data to existing databases for ready access to researchers worldwide.