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Anglia Ruskin University ARU Featured PhD Programmes
Anglia Ruskin University ARU Featured PhD Programmes

Determining global plasma waves in Earth’s magnetosphere from ground observations (Advert Reference: STFC21/EE/MPEE/BENTLEYSarah)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

Dr Sarah Bentley Wednesday, April 28, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Newcastle United Kingdom Applied Mathematics Astronomy Astrophysics Computational Physics Data Analysis Data Science Environmental Physics Geophysics Machine Learning Space Science

About the Project

Earth’s radiation belts are an extreme environment where high energy electrons pose a hazard to the space hardware underpinning modern life. The ultra-low frequency (ULF) waves studied in this project are large-scale oscillations of Earth’s magnetic field that contribute to the energisation and transport of these electrons. This project investigates some of the fundamental assumptions used to predict the space environment using ground-based observations. Space research is a growing field attracting increasing amounts of funding worldwide. Based on the interests of the student, this project could potentially focus on any of: (i) data analysis, (ii) theoretical or (iii) numerical modelling of plasma or (iv) a mathematical description of the waves as probability distributions travelling along a curved path. 


Recent advances indicate that current radiation belt modelling methods are inadequate because our modelling tools rely on averaged properties. Instead of using average values, we need to capture the full range of the plasma dynamics using probabilistic techniques. Unfortunately, it appears that current methods mapping ground-to-space wave observations may not be fit for purpose because all the approximations used are based on average properties, instead of the full probability distribution. Currently, to map ground waves to their space counterparts, we estimate how an ideal electromagnetic wave at the ground interacts with an ideal ionosphere and then travels along Earth’s dipole magnetic field. In reality neither of these are ideal and wave propagation is moderated by the plasma properties in near-Earth space. 

Initially, you will use data analysis to compare ground and space wave observations and quantify how different the two populations are. These results, along with the strengths and interests of the student, will inform the next steps. Possible directions include theoretical or numerical modelling of the plasma, investigating the impact of a curved magnetic field when considering these waves as travelling stochastic processes, or further data analysis. This is an open-ended project as any results in this area will be of use in next-generation radiation belt modelling, contributing to efforts to predict ULF waves in forecasting models of the Earth’s radiation belts. 

Student profile

Due to the many possible research directions and the multidisciplinary nature of the project, we welcome applications from students with a wide set of skills. A good degree in a numerate subject with some basic physics is essential, for example mathematics, physics, or related sciences. These skills are required to access training in space plasma physics and programming. Further skills in any one or more of these areas is desirable but essential training will be provided. This project would particularly suit students with an interest in space weather, plasma physics, or a mathematical background. We are looking for a student motivated to investigate new and challenging questions and welcome students requiring flexible work patterns. 


Training in subject-specific and transferable skills will be provided. You will have access to Masters-level modules and regular seminars from national/international experts in the field. We will encourage you to attend summer schools and conferences in the UK and abroad and to join in with regular discussions with space weather modelling partners in order to turn our science results into forecasting models.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr. Sarah Bentley.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. STFC21/EE/MPEE/BENTLEYSarah) will not be considered.

·      You do not need to submit a research proposal for this project as it has already been defined by the supervisor.

·      If you have your own research idea and wish to pursue that, then this is also possible - please indicate this on your application (if this is the case, then please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words). 

Deadline for applications: 28 April 2021

Start Date: 1 October 2021 or 1 March 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home* or International (including EU) Students and includes a full stipend, paid for 3.5 years at RCUK rates (for 2021/2, this is £15,609 p.a.) and full tuition fees.
* Please note that in order to be classed as Home Student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
- be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
- have settled status, or
- have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
- have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


Further details on this project and other STFC funded projects can be found at:

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