Jeremy Heyl


Research Interests

Black Holes
Neutron Stars
quantum phenomena
Quantum-Field Theory
Stellar Physics

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology

Computer simulation


Doctoral students
Any time / year round
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

Complete these steps before you reach out to a faculty member!

Check requirements
  • Familiarize yourself with program requirements. You want to learn as much as possible from the information available to you before you reach out to a faculty member. Be sure to visit the graduate degree program listing and program-specific websites.
  • Check whether the program requires you to seek commitment from a supervisor prior to submitting an application. For some programs this is an essential step while others match successful applicants with faculty members within the first year of study. This is either indicated in the program profile under "Admission Information & Requirements" - "Prepare Application" - "Supervision" or on the program website.
Focus your search
  • Identify specific faculty members who are conducting research in your specific area of interest.
  • Establish that your research interests align with the faculty member’s research interests.
    • Read up on the faculty members in the program and the research being conducted in the department.
    • Familiarize yourself with their work, read their recent publications and past theses/dissertations that they supervised. Be certain that their research is indeed what you are hoping to study.
Make a good impression
  • Compose an error-free and grammatically correct email addressed to your specifically targeted faculty member, and remember to use their correct titles.
    • Do not send non-specific, mass emails to everyone in the department hoping for a match.
    • Address the faculty members by name. Your contact should be genuine rather than generic.
  • Include a brief outline of your academic background, why you are interested in working with the faculty member, and what experience you could bring to the department. The supervision enquiry form guides you with targeted questions. Ensure to craft compelling answers to these questions.
  • Highlight your achievements and why you are a top student. Faculty members receive dozens of requests from prospective students and you may have less than 30 seconds to pique someone’s interest.
  • Demonstrate that you are familiar with their research:
    • Convey the specific ways you are a good fit for the program.
    • Convey the specific ways the program/lab/faculty member is a good fit for the research you are interested in/already conducting.
  • Be enthusiastic, but don’t overdo it.
Attend an information session

G+PS regularly provides virtual sessions that focus on admission requirements and procedures and tips how to improve your application.



These videos contain some general advice from faculty across UBC on finding and reaching out to a potential thesis supervisor.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Red giant stars as standard candles (2023)

This thesis introduces two new extragalactic distance determination methods; the first uses the median magnitude of carbon-rich asymptotic giant branch stars (CS), while the second uses the combined luminosity function of the red-giant branch (RGB) and oxygen-rich asymptotic giant branch stars (AGB). The sample of CS and RGB+AGB stars are selected from near-infrared JHKs-bands colour-magnitude diagrams (CMD), as in these filters RGs are bright and easy to identify. Both methods use the Magellanic Clouds (MC) as the fundamental calibrators and are tested in four Magellanic type galaxies: NGC 6822, IC 1613, WLM and NGC 3109, these target galaxies are all members of the Local Group.For the CS method, the CS J-band luminosity function is fitted using a Lorentzian distribution modified to allow the distribution to be asymmetric. The parameters of the best-fit distribution are then used to determine if the CS luminosity function of a given galaxy resembles that of the Large or Small MC (LMC or SMC). Based on this resemblance, either the LMC or SMC is used as the calibrator and the distance to the given galaxy is estimated using the median J-magnitude of the CS samples.The second method uses an un-binned maximum likelihood estimator to find the distance modulus that minimizes the difference between the luminosity function of the RGB+AGB stars in a target galaxy and the model distribution given by the luminosity function of the RGB+AGB stars in the MC. The model luminosity function can be given by the LMC and SMC individually or as a linear combination (LC) of both. The LC includes a "shape'' parameter that quantifies how "LMC-'' or "SMC-like'' a target galaxy is. Except for the NGC 3109 Ks luminosity function, the LC "shape'' results agree with the CS "LMC/SMC-like'' classification.Estimations of the distances through the tip of the RGB method are also included to test the performance and compare the results when the three different methods are applied to the same data set. The distance estimates for the target galaxies from the three different methods presented in this thesis are in good agreement within the error bars.

View record

Studies of evolved stellar populations : from giants to remnants (2023)

Studying galaxies helps scientists understand better the structure and history of the Universe. The properties of galaxies, such as their dynamics and evolution, can be inferred through studying the age, composition, and distribution of the different stellar populations (from young stars to their remnants) that constitute them, using multi-wavelength observations. In this thesis, we focus on the study of old stellar populations and their remnants, from X-rays to the near infrared. Superconducting transition-edge sensors carried by X-ray telescopes, such as Colibrì, are powerful tools for the study of neutron stars’ and black holes’ fundamental properties. We develop a low-computational-cost technique that optimizes energy and time resolution to levels of about 1 eV and 100 ns, respectively, over a wide range of energies (0–30 keV). Such sensitivities will give new insights on the physics of dense matter and extreme magnetic fields. Using 2MASS near-infrared photometry and the Gaia Data Release 2, we identify carbon stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, Small Magellanic Cloud and Milky Way (MW), and we derive the corresponding carbon-star luminosity function (CSLF). Due to its limited dispersion in the J band, the CSLF is a promising rung in the cosmic distance ladder (up to 50–60 Mpc). Thanks to the next generation of telescopes (e.g. James Webb Space Telescope), the CSLF could replace the Cepheid–Type-Ia supernova pair rung, thus enabling the derivation of an independent measurement of the Hubble constant. We identify galactic white dwarfs (WDs) thanks to their colours, in the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope Large Area U-band Deep Survey, at unprecedented faint magnitudes (27 mag). The U-band and optical photometry allows us to fit for the physical properties of the white dwarfs, such as surface temperature, mass, surface gravity, cooling age, and distance. We find a main mass peak consistent with globular-cluster studies, making our sample the largest and deepest old stellar-halo WD population. Finally, we derive a typical age of the MW stellar halo consistent with previous studies, as well as the typical age of the oldest WDs in the MW, putting further constraints on the history of our Galaxy.

View record

QED and X-ray polarization from neutron stars and black holes (2020)

The emission from accreting black holes and neutron stars, as well as from the highly magnetized neutron stars called magnetars, is dominated by X-rays. For this reason, spectral and timing studies in the X-rays have been extremely successful in broadening our understanding of compact objects in the past few decades. Soon, a new observational window will open on compact objects: X-ray polarimetry. In this work, I explore how polarized light is generated in black-hole accretion disks, magnetar atmospheres and magnetospheres and in the accretion region of X-ray pulsars. In the different chapters, I show how the polarization signal is sensitive to several unknowns in our theoretical models: the geometry of accretion in X-ray pulsars, the strength and structure of the magnetic field threading accretion disks around black holes, the process of the non-thermal emission in magnetars. For this reason, the future X-ray polarimetry missions will be extremely helpful in constraining our theoretical models. Furthermore, the polarization emission will provide, for the first time, a test of one of the first theoretical predictions of quantum electrodynamics: vacuum birefringence. In this work, I show how this effect, previously considered only for neutron stars, plays a crucial role for black holes as well.

View record

Numerical Studies in Gravitational Collapse (2016)

In the first part of this thesis, we solve the coupled Einstein-Vlasov system in spherical symmetry using direct numerical integration of the Vlasov equation in phase space. Focusing on the case of massless particles we study critical phenomena in the model, finding strong evidence for generic type I behaviour at the black hole threshold that parallels what has previously been observed in the massive sector. For differing families of initial data we find distinct critical solutions, so there is no universality of the critical configuration itself. However we find indications of at least a weak universality in the lifetime scaling exponent, which is yet to be understood. Additionally, we clarify the role that angular momentum plays in the critical behaviour in the massless case. The second part focuses on type II critical collapse. Using the critical collapse of a massless scalar field in spherical symmetry as a test case, we study a generalization of the BSSN formulation due to Brown that is suited for use with curvilinear coordinates. We adopt standard dynamical gauge choices, including 1+log slicing and a shift that is either zero or evolved by a Gamma-driver condition. With both choices of shift we are able to evolve sufficiently close to the black hole threshold to 1) unambiguously identify the discrete self-similarity of the critical solution, 2) determine an echoing exponent consistent with previous calculations, and 3) measure a mass scaling exponent, also in accord with prior computations. Our results can be viewed as an encouraging first step towards the use of hyperbolic formulations in more generic type II scenarios, including the as yet unresolved problem of critical collapse of axisymmetric gravitational waves. In the last part, we present simulations of nonlinear evolutions of pure gravity waves. We describe a new G-BSSN code in axial symmetry that is capable of evolving a pure vacuum content in a strong gravity regime for both Teukolsky and Brill initial data. We provide strong evidence for the accuracy of the numerical solver. Our results suggest that the G-BSSN is promising for type II critical phenomena studies.

View record

White Dwarf Populations in Globular Clusters (2016)

This thesis details three distinct projects that explore stellar populations in Milky Way globular clusters. In the first, a method of modelling mass segregation in clusters is presented. The model is fit to 54 clusters and the best fit parameters are presented in tabular form. The newly derived parameter that indicates the amount of mass segregation correlates strongly with other dynamical cluster parameters. In the second study, white dwarf data in the cluster 47 Tucanae are used to construct an empirical relation between temperature and time for these stars. The modified data are compared to theoretical cooling models from four different research groups. We find disagreement between all of the models and the data. The models are also inconsistent with each other. In thethird investigation, new UV white dwarf data in 47 Tuc is used to constrain the hydrogen mass fraction and neutrino production rates in cooling white dwarfs. A much different approach from the second project is used. The data are left untouched and the model is transformed to the space in which the data exist. Using the unbinned maximum likelihood statistic, the model’s parameter space is explored with MCMC sampling. A constraint on the rate of neutrino production in white dwarfs comes from this analysis.

View record

Critical Collapse of Newtonian Fluids (2015)

This thesis constitutes a numerical study concerning the dynamics of an inviscidfluid subject to Newtonian gravity. Type-II critical phenomena has been previously measured in gravitational collapse simulations of isothermal-gas-spheres in Newtonian gravity. Our first objective was to extend this work by applying the more general polytropic-gas equation-of-state to the spherically symmetric fluid. We showed that under generic conditions of critical collapse, the polytropic gas allows for scale-invariant solutions. These solutions display self-similarity of the first kind with non-linear scaling between the space and time variables. One of these solutions was identified as the critical solution in critical collapse simulations. Such solution was found to have a single unstable mode with a Lyapunov exponent whose value depends on the polytropic index (Γ) from the equation of state. We argued that this behavior constitutes evidence of type-II critical phenomena with a transition from type-II to type-I behavior occurring at Γ ≥ 6/5. Thus, the polytropic gas exhibits both types of critical behavior. These phenomena was investigated dynamically and also from perturbation analysis. In the second phase of the project we extended the hydrodynamic model to treataxi-symmetric gravitational collapse. This allowed us to study the effect of angular momentum on the critical solution. As previously predicted, infinitesimal initial rotation introduces a non-spherical, unstable axial mode into the dynamics. The measured scaling behavior of the specific angular momentum of the collapsed core agrees with the predicted growth rate (Lyapunov exponent) of the axial perturbation. This two-mode linear regime modifies the scaling laws via the introduction of universal functions that depend on the two-parameter family of initial data. The predicted universality of these functions was confirmed through careful measurements of the collapsed mass and its angular momentum near the collapse threshold. A two-parameter space survey reveals a universal behavior of the order-parameters, with no mass-gap even in the presence of finite initial rotation. The behavior changes slightly beyond some initial rotation threshold. The results then, can be interpreted as an intermediate convergence to a non-spherical self-similar critical solution with a single unstable mode.

View record

Merging Black Hole and Cosmological Horizons (2015)

This thesis investigates the merging of horizons which occurs when a black hole crosses a cosmological horizon. We study the simplest spacetime which has both a black hole and cosmological horizon, namely Schwarzschild-deSitter (SdS) spacetime. First we develop a new coordinate system for SdS spacetime, which allows us to properly illustrate and analyze the merging of horizons. We then use a combination of numerical and analytical methods to study the structure of the merging horizons, including the null generators which make up the horizon, as well as the presence of caustic points on the horizon. We find an analytical formula for the location in spacetime where the black hole and cosmological horizon first touch. Next we study the area of the horizons. Using numerical methods, we find several intriguing results regarding the behavior of horizon area on time, and in the limit of small black hole mass. The first result is that the time at which the black hole first touches the cosmological horizon is also the time at which the rate of horizon area increase is maximal. The second and third results concern the horizon area in the limit of small black hole mass. The second result is that in this limit, all of the increase in horizon area occurs prior to horizon merger. The third and final result is that in the limit of small black hole mass, the increase in horizon area can be thought of as being due in equal parts to two effects: to the joining of new generators not previously on the horizon, and the expansion of generators on the horizon for all times. The first and third results just mentioned are both corroborated using analytical techniques. Finally, we conclude by discussing how the study of merging horizons in this thesis is a valuable first step to undertaking a similar study of the horizons which occur in merging black hole binaries.

View record

Aspects of magnetic Fields in the Late Stages of Stellar Evolution (2012)

We investigate the implications of a magnetic field in the late stages of stellar evolution, in relation to the process of mass-loss via a stellar wind. We develop the very first hybrid magnetohydrodynamic-dust-driven wind model for intermediate-mass Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars. This model consists of incorporating a canonical Weber-Davis magneto-centrifugal scenario with the effects of radiation pressure on dust grains in the envelope of an AGB star. This results in a dual-fluid description, the solution of which is seen to possess traits of both types of winds. In this context, we additionally investigate the implications of spots on the photosphere that alter the location of dust formation and hence the wind solutions. This model is adapted to tackle the case of the red supergiant Betelgeuse. The underlying motivation is to delineate a new mechanism for solving the problem of transport of stellar material from the photosphere out to the dust formation radius, many stellar radii away. Various dust formation scenarios are investigated and it is concluded that the simplest of such scenarios, with silicate dust forming at a large distance, is the most viable one as well. This theory is also applied to the low-mass end of AGB stars; the star Mira. By applying a modified wind model we solve for a hybrid MHD-dust-driven wind solution and find that the magnetic field required to model the observed wind is about 4 G, well within the range of current estimates for AGB stars. We also formulate a hot-spot model to rationalise dust shells at a distance of several stellar radii. Finally, we study the effects of a strong magnetic field in post-AGB compact objects; magnetised white dwarfs and neutron stars. We develop a fast and efficient solution for Hartree-Fock atoms in strong magnetic fields using pseudospectral methods. The atomic structure package developed for this purpose is seen to be many orders of magnitude faster than finite-element based methods. We also obtain for the first time, estimates for the binding energies of certain low-lying states of the lithium atom, that have not been reported thus far in the literature.

View record

Astrophysical plasmas near strongly magnetized compact objects (2012)

The interaction of strong magnetic fields of compact objects with the surrounding plasma leads to novel and puzzling astrophysical phenomena. In this dissertation, we examine some of the properties of strongly magnetized plasmas as outlined in the following. A fully relativistic treatment of Bernstein waves in a uniform, magnetized, relativistic electron-positron pair plasma has remained too formidable a task owing to the very complex nature of the problem. We perform contour integration of the dielectric response function and numerically compute the dispersion curves. If coupled to electromagnetic modes, these waves may be important for generating radiation in pulsar magnetospheres. The soft gamma-ray repeaters, classified as magnetars, unleash large amounts of magnetically stored energy in a spectacular event called the giant flare. What causes these flares to develop is an open question. We examine two trigger mechanisms, one internal and the other external to the neutron star. In the internal mechanism, we propose that the strongly wound up poloidal magnetic field develops tangential discontinuities and dissipates its torsional energy in heating the crust. Alternatively, we argue that the shearing motion of the external magnetic field footpoints causes the materialization of a Sweet-Parker current layer in the magnetosphere. The thinning of this macroscopic layer powers the giant flare. The extreme environments of compact objects are conducive to the creation of exotic particles, that may not be discovered in laboratories. The light pseudoscalar particle, dubbed the axion, borne out of the Peccei-Quinn solution to the strong CP problem in QCD is one such particle which remains elusive. We present a novel way of constraining its properties by examining the level of linear polarization in the radiation emerging from magnetic white dwarfs. On sub-meV mass scales, our study provides the strongest constraints on axion properties obtained astrophysically. The cooling theory of neutron stars is corroborated by comparison with observations of thermally emitting isolated neutron stars. An important ingredient for such an analysis is the age of the object, which typically is highly uncertain. We conduct a population synthesis study of the nearby isolated thermal emitters and obtain their ages statistically.

View record

Neutron Star Metallurgy (2012)

The crust of a neutron star plays an important role in the emission observed from it. The thermal emission generated in the core of the neutron star passes through the crust, thus it is important to know what is in the crust in order to understand how the emission is shaped and altered. The crust itself may be responsible for the observations of glitches from neutron stars and also as a source of gravitational waves. This thesis is two-fold. The first goal is to calculate the composition of the neutron star crust of a non-accreting neutron star. The second is to use the calculated crustal compositions in molecular dynamics simulations in order to determine the shear modulus and breaking strain of the crustal material.The composition of the crust is found to be dependent on how the neutron star cooled. Nuclear reactions within the crust are quenched as the star cools. The composition of the crust, envelope, and atmosphere are calculated after the nuclear reactions are quenched. With the settling timescales of the various isotopes in the crust, some of these isotopes are able to float up to the neutron star surface and form the atmosphere. Three different cooling methods were used in these calculations – modified Urca cooling, a thick crust and a thin crust – each produces different atmospheric and crustal compositions.The calculated crustal abundances are then used as initial conditions in molecular dynamics simulations. A shear force is introduced by deforming the simulation box. The shear modulus and breaking strain are calculated for the three different crustal compositions as well as for perfect pure face-centered cubic (FCC) and body-centered cubic (BCC) systems. The upper limit, from the perfect crystal lattice structure, on the breaking strain is found to ~0.11 − 0.12 and the shear modulus is found to be 6.5 × 10³º dyne/cm². These properties predict glitch amplitudes of ∆Ω/Ω∼10⁻³. The gravitational wave strain amplitudes for PSR J2124- 3358 are also predicted to be greater than the observed upper limits. This indicates that the neutron star crust is not a perfect BCC lattice which deformed to 10% of the maximum.

View record

Nonperturbative quantum field theory in astrophysics (2012)

The extreme electromagnetic or gravitational fields associated with some astrophysical objects can give rise to macroscopic effects arising from the physics of the quantum vacuum. Therefore, these objects are incredible laboratories for exploring the physics of quantum field theories. In this dissertation, we explore this idea in three astrophysical scenarios.In the early universe, quantum fluctuations of a scalar field result in the generation of particles, and of the density fluctuations which seed the large- scale structure of the universe. These fluctuations are generated through quantum processes, but are ultimately treated classically. We explore how a quantum-to-classical transition may occur due to non-linear self-interactions of the scalar field. This mechanism is found to be too inefficient to explain classicality, meaning fields which do not become classical because of other mechanisms may maintain some evidence of their quantum origins.Magnetars are characterized by intense magnetic fields. In these fields, the quantum vacuum becomes a non-linear optical medium because of interactions between light and quantum fluctuations of electron-positron pairs. In addition, there is a plasma surrounding the magnetar which is a dissipative medium. We construct a numerical simulation of electromagnetic waves in this environment which is non-perturbative in the wave amplitudes and background field. This simulation reveals a new class of waves with highly non-linear structure that are stable against shock formation.The dense nuclear material in a neutron star is expected to be in a type-II superconducting state. In that case, the star’s intense magnetic fields will penetrate the core and crust through a dense lattice of flux tubes. However,depending on the details of the free energy associated with these flux tubes, the nuclear material may be in a type-I state which completely expels the field. We compute the quantum corrections to the classical energies of these flux tubes by creating a new, massively parallel Monte-Carlo simulation. The quantum contribution tends to make a small contribution which adds to the classical free energy. We also find a non-local interaction energy with a sign that depends on the field profile and spacing between flux tubes.

View record

News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Follow these steps to apply to UBC Graduate School!