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Researching galaxies in Brazil for Astronomy Master's Project

6 March 2018

Astronomy master´s student Lieke van Son went to Brazil to perform her graduation research project for the Astronomy and Cosmology master's specialization at the Observatorio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. Read all about her adventure abroad.

By Lieke van Son

Master's Research Project

As an Astronomy master's student in Leiden, you perform two 10-month research projects. For my second Master Research Project in the Astronomy and Cosmology specialization, I had the unique opportunity to perform my research at the Observatorio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Unique collaboration

My choice for this institute and country was mainly based on a unique existing collaboration between different fields of expertise. Astronomers Prof. dr. Huub Röttgering of Leiden Observatory and Dr. Roderik Overzier of the Observatorio Nacional coined the idea to research the relation between radio-emitting galaxies and the intergalactic and circumgalactic gas that surrounds these galaxies. When I told Huub Röttgering about my interest in doing part of my Astronomy master's abroad, the plan was quickly made. Huub became my supervisor in the Netherlands with Roderik as my supervisor in Brazil, all to study the following research question:

What does the intergalactic and circumgalactic medium of radio galaxies consist of and which relations exist between the medium and source (quasar), and between the medium and the galaxy?

Radio galaxies

In between and around galaxies there is a medium (a kind of gas, also called the intergalactic and circumgalactic medium) which plays a crucial role in the formation theory of galaxies. Recent developments in observational techniques have enabled the study of this medium using absorption spectra of so-called quasars (quasi-stellar objects). By cross-correlating these absorption spectra with radio data we can find out more about the nature and dynamics or this medium. The analysis of Lieke's data is still ongoing, but the preliminary results are very promising.

Entrance of the Observatorio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Entrance of the Observatorio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Expand your horizon

The collaboration between the Netherlands and Brazil was the basis of my project and has been a unique opportunity for me to expand my horizon as a researcher. In addition to the invaluable professional experience, it also expanded my scientific network and personal skills. I hope this will help me strengthen my chances of obtaining a PhD position after graduating from my master’s. And of course, it was an amazing experience to live in Rio de Janeiro for a couple of months. I got to know so many new people and created beautiful memories. The amazing team spirit at the Observatorio Nacional made my stay in Brazil an unforgettable experience (although the caipirinhas in the weekend helped as well). I hope I will be able to return to this city of marvels some day.

Bird's view on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Bird's view on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Doing your Astronomy Master Research Project abroad can be a valuable experience, but shouldn't be taken too lightly and requires you to meet specific conditions. If you are inspired by Lieke's story, please make sure to read all details on studying abroad during your Astronomy master's programme.

Studying abroad during your Astronomy master's

Share your experience

Are you an Astronomy master's student and do you want to share your experience abroad? Contact the Astronomy PR Coordinator at pr-education@strw.leidenuniv.nl. In your message, shortly describe the relation of your experience abroad with the Astronomy master's programme.

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