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Nearby galaxies like the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, M83, are well-studied neighbours to our Milky Way. Being external galaxies, we get an outsiders view of the galaxies in the local Universe, allowing us to see these galaxies as a whole. This means we can measure their global properties to link to large galaxy surveys, determine their group environment and even observe their large-scale gas-cycle – the balance between gas replenishment (via inflows from the intergalactic medium) and consumption (via star formation) or ejection (outflows), a key driver of galaxy evolution.

Yet these galaxies are also close enough to resolve internal structures like spiral arms, gas clouds, HII regions and even stars with the right telescopes. This means the key physical processes at the core of galaxy evolution -can be observed  cool HI gas collapsing to form molecular clouds that then form stars, which in turn return gas, metals and energy to their surrounding interstellar material to begin the process again.

Our knowledge of the external and internal gas cycle and its connection to galaxy properties and their environments is still somewhat limited, due to lack of large, multi-wavelength data sets with high resolution observations. Only now thanks to extragalactic surveys with the leading and next-generation telescopes such as the Hubble & James Webb Space Telescopes, the European Southern Observatories VLT,  the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and its pathfinders are we linking star formation and the gas-cycle from the smallest to galactic scales.

With such detailed data we are able to break apart and understand galaxy formation in ways not possible before and seek answers to big questions such as: what is the relation between gas content and galaxy structure?  Why star-forming systems such as our own Milky Way have not run out of fuel a long time ago? How did they get their gas? What are the most important processes regulating gas accretion and gas loss in the local Universe, and how do they depend on both the local and extragalactic environment & properties of galaxies?, and how does this drive the distribution of stars and their mass function in galaxies?.

Here at ICRAR, we have access to this multi-wavelength data on nearby galaxies, and are leading some of these surveys. Based on this data we have multiple projects both observational and theory based in:

  • 3D modelling of galaxies (Brent Groves)
  • Solving for the Initial Mass Function of stars (Gerhardt Meurer)
  • Quantifying the energetic feedback from massive stars (Brent Groves)
  • Understanding the distribution of metals and dust in galaxies over cosmic time (Brent Groves)
  • The Gas cycle as a function of environment (Barbara Catinella)

For more details of these projects or related ones, please contact the primary supervisor. Students accepting these projects will acquire skills in processing and analysis of multi-wavelength data sets, querying and managing large data sets, statistical analysis, and comparison with theory.

This image, taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), shows the nearby galaxy NGC 4254.