Stars are born in large clouds of gas and dust known as nebulae. These so called ‘stellar nurseries’ are also home to the complex organic molecules that many believe to have seeded life on Earth. To further our understanding of star formation, scientists must consider the spatial distribution of stars, gas and dust in space.

What Students will do

Students will undertake a multi-wavelength investigation of the Orion Nebula, using both optical observations from UNSW’s 14” on-site telescope and publicly available radio-frequency data. Students will analyse this data using Python, to determine how much star formation is occurring in a region, and how this predicts the amount of new star formation that will happen in that area of the interstellar medium. The project will equip students with the skills required to effectively analyse large astrophysical datasets, including experience in coding and statistical analysis.

Prerequisite Study

  • Physics
  • Mathematics 

Areas of Student Interest

  • Astronomy 
  • Astrophysics 
  • Space
  • Origins of life
  • Coding 


Lead Academic: Maria Cunningham - Senior Lecturer, School of Physics

Maria Cunningham

    Molecular Astrophysics: One of my main areas of research is the use of molecular line radiation to investigate the physical conditions and chemistry of molecular clouds, both in the Milky Way and in other galaxies. 

    Bioastronomy: Bioastronomy and astrobiology are among the most exciting areas of research in science today, bringing together scientists from the disciplines of physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry and biology. My own interests lie in investigating pre-biotic molecules in the interstellar medium, and I am involved in collaborative research with groups in the USA, Chile and Germany. 

    Turbulence and energy transfer in the interstellar medium: I am interested in using astronomical observations of the interstellar medium to constrain the turbulent properties, and to determine the effect that turbulence and energy transfer through the interstellar medium have on star formation. 

    Using data intensive astronomy together with computational astrophysics to understand the relationship between star formation and the surrounding interstellar medium. 


    PhD Student: Shannon Melrose 

    Shannon Melrose

    Shannon Melrose is currently a PhD student in the School of Physics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He has Bachelor’s degrees in Advanced Science (Physics, Honours) and Arts (French, Spanish) from UNSW. Shannon is heavily involved in first-year physics instruction and astronomy outreach activities, with research interests in computational astronomy and black-hole detection. His current research incorporates molecular astrophysics and statistical analysis techniques to characterise the massive star-formation properties of the interstellar medium.