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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Dr Edward Gillen


Winton Fellow & Lecturer in Observations of Exoplanets

Telephone: 020 7882 5898
Room Number: G.O. Jones Building, Room 507


I am a Lecturer and Winton Fellow at Queen Mary University of London. My research focuses on understanding the evolution, diversity and habitability of planetary systems, which I pursue using a variety of ground- and space-based observatories.

I completed my PhD at the University of Oxford in 2015, where I worked on young eclipsing binary stars and their environments in open clusters. Following my PhD, I moved into exoplanet research and took up a postdoctoral position in exoplanets at the University of Cambridge. In 2018, I was awarded a Winton Exoplanet Fellowship, which I also held at Cambridge. I moved to QMUL in May 2020 to join the Astronomy Unit as a lecturer.

I am a member of the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), Atmospheric Remote-sensing Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) and PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) consortia.


I am the Module Organiser (MO) for the masters level course Exoplanets and Astrophysics Discs (SPA7009U/P), Deputy Module Organiser (DMO) for the masters level course Radiative Transfer and Astrochemistry (SPA7036U/P) and the Module Associate (MA) for the first year undergraduate course Our Universe (SPA4101). 

I also supervise undergraduate project students on the SPA6913, SPA6776 and SPA7015U courses.


Research Interests:

My primary research interests focus on understanding the evolution, diversity and habitability of planetary systems. Within these overarching themes, some areas of particular interest include:

  • Characterising transiting exoplanet systems at different ages throughout their lifetime. Young planets (i.e. those less than around a billion years old) are especially interesting, as they offer direct observational link between our theories of planet formation and the currently known, old, exoplanet population.
  • Observationally calibrating stellar (and hence planetary) evolution theory using various complementary approaches:
    • Characterising eclipsing binary stars, for which the stellar masses, radii and temperatures can be directly measured.
    • Characterising stellar rotation and flare activity, which offer insight into the age-activity-rotation relation.
    • Studying the star-disk interaction, which provides a window onto the final stages of star formation and the inner regions of protoplanetary disks.
  • Assessing the potential habitability of exoplanet systems by characterising the high energy activity of low-mass stars.

Examples of research funding:

I am supported by a Winton Exoplanet Fellowship and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).


My full publication list is available through the ADS, which can be viewed here.



This is not an exhaustive list and I would be happy to discuss other project possibilities.


Understanding the early evolution of stellar and planetary systems

Young open clusters are groups of hundreds-to-thousands of stars that formed in the same birth environment and hence share a common age, composition and location. The shared properties of these stars make them powerful astrophysical laboratories to probe the early evolution of both stars and the planetary systems they host. For example, the size, temperature and internal structure of stars, along with their rotation rates and activity levels, change dramatically during their early stages of life. Likewise, planets evolve most significantly during their first billion years: after forming within the protoplanetary disc of gas and dust that surrounds young stars, young planets cool and contract, with some migrating in towards their host star where they are subject to strong tidal forces and stellar irradiation. By studying young stars and planets in open clusters across a range of ages, we can probe all of these phenomena and observationally constrain how stellar and planetary systems evolve.

The Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) is a state-of-the-art photometric facility based at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, which comprises 12 independent robotic telescopes. NGTS is conducting a systematic survey of young open clusters with ages between 1 Myr – 2 Gyr (i.e. 1 million – 2 billion years old), which is being led by Dr Gillen in collaboration with an international team of researchers (the NGTS consortium). Ten young open clusters have been observed to date with more planned over the next years.

This PhD project will contribute to the scientific exploitation of the NGTS clusters survey. With a wealth of observational data on young stars, there is a lot of flexibility in the science that can be done in this project. Some potential avenues that can be explored are:

  • Studying the angular momentum evolution of young stars by measuring their rotation periods across a range of ages.
  • Constraining the structural evolution of young stars by characterising young eclipsing binary (EB) stars in these open clusters.
  • Probing the activity levels of young stars by characterizing stellar flares, which have an impact on the potential habitability of orbiting planets.
  • Probing the interaction between young stars and their protoplanetary discs (the sites of planet formation), which is modulated by the star’s magnetic field.
  • Detecting and characterising young transiting planets in these open clusters.

I would be happy to discuss any of these topics, as well as explore other project possibilities.


Useful links on NGTS and the NGTS clusters survey:


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