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Fellowship Overview

Winton Exoplanet Fellowships support outstanding postdoctoral researchers who are working on the detection and characterisation of exoplanets.

Fellowships recognise talented, early-career researchers – those who have received their PhD in the last five years – and provide support for them to pursue original and ambitious research that will help to establish them in positions of leadership in the field of planetary astronomy.

Each recipient will receive a three-year grant of up to £220k to cover salary, benefits, and discretionary spending (eg travel).

Eligibility Criteria

Candidates must pursue a postdoctoral position at a UK university. Candidates must have earned their doctoral degree (ie passed their viva) in astronomy, physics, planetary sciences, chemistry, mathematics, or a related discipline by 31 October 2018.

Application Procedure

Department Heads are permitted to nominate up to two candidates per institution. The faculty member(s) that will be hosting the candidate are encouraged to work with the candidate to develop his/her application for the fellowship.

Selection Process

Up to three fellowships will be awarded. The Winton Exoplanet Fellowship Advisory Panel will recommend candidates to the David and Claudia Harding Foundation Board of Trustees for approval. Selections will be made based on novelty, creativity and the potential for candidates to become leaders in the field.

Fellowship Timeline

Winton Exoplanet Fellows 2018

While we have observed a wide range of planetary system architectures to date, we have little understanding of the processes that drive the formation and early evolution of those systems. Both of the 2018 Winton Exoplanet Fellows are conducting research in this area.

Dr Cassandra Hall

Dr Cassandra Hall, a postdoctoral research associate in theoretical astrophysics at the University of Leicester, will use state-of-the art computational techniques to focus on improving our fundamental understanding of exoplanet formation, through simulations of these exoplanets in their birth environment – a circumstellar disc around the host star.

While there are many ways to detect exoplanets, observing forming exoplanets cannot be done directly, since they are either too cold to emit sufficient photons, or there is too much other material around the disc obscuring the light. What can be done, however, is looking at the signatures they leave in the disc. This is a bit like guessing the size and shape of animals from footprints in the sand - but instead, these planets create ring-like or spiral-like features in a disc.

These signatures can be observed using interferometry, a technique where many antennae work together to improve resolution and sensitivity. But to understand these signatures we need advanced computational techniques, such as simulating the gas of the disc, known as hydrodynamics simulations, or creating a synthetic telescope image, by simulating photons.

Cassandra proposes to develop models of discs and planets that will provide a consistent theoretical framework to explain or predict the range of exoplanet and disc parameters that create signposts of exoplanet formation.

Dr Edward Gillen

Dr Edward Gillen, a postdoctoral researcher in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, will monitor several young open star clusters to search for young transiting “hot Jupiter” planets to better understand the formation and early evolution of planetary systems.

The term “hot Jupiter” planets describes those planets that have gaseous structures akin to Jupiter’s, but by contrast orbit their star with relatively short orbital periods. The majority of giant planet formation happens within a few million years with some planets eventually migrating inwards towards their host star.

Edward’s fellowship proposal is to find the detectable hot Jupiter planets and observe them in orbit around young stars, that is stars that range in age from a million- to a billion-years-old.

To do this, Edward will study data from NGTS – the Next Generation Transit Survey – which comprises 12 robotic telescopes in Chile. The hope is to gain a better understanding of the processes that drive planet migration, as well as the timescales involved, and to measure fundamental properties such as mass and radius at young ages.