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Electrodynamics of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupled system (GEO/2020/MIL)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 29, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The interaction of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetic field leads to dynamic phenomena in near-Earth space, including the energization and circulation of plasma within the magnetosphere and ionosphere – the most visible manifestation of which is the polar auroras – which lead to a hostile environment for space- and ground-based technologies.

There are currently two theoretical frameworks in which the interaction and dynamics are understood. The “open magnetosphere” model proposed by Jim Dungey in the 1960s - which invokes magnetic reconnection as the process by which terrestrial magnetic field lines become connected and disconnected from the interplanetary magnetic field embedded within the solar wind - has been highly successful in explaining many aspects of magnetospheric dynamics. Alternatively, the dynamics can be thought of as driven by electric currents generated at the magnetopause and diverted into the ionosphere and inner magnetosphere, forming current loops that transmit stress from the solar wind to the magnetospheric plasma. These two paradigms are clearly different aspects of the same phenomenon, but as yet there is no consensus of how the two pictures fit together.

Until recently, progress has been hampered by an inability to measure the spatial and temporal variations of the current systems of the magnetosphere. However, a new measurement technique that exploits magnetometry from the Iridium satellite constellation of nearly 70 spacecraft – the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE) – provides an unparalleled opportunity to study the electric currents systems linking the magnetosphere and ionosphere, and to understand their role in the larger solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere system. This project will exploit data from AMPERE, space-borne auroral cameras, and many other space- and ground-based observatories, together with theoretical modelling, to gain a fuller understanding of the electrodynamics of our near-Earth environment and its response to solar wind disturbances. A key aim is to study the variability of the auroras, how they are generated, and what this tells us about the structure and dynamics of the magnetosphere.

Entry Requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

The University of Leicester English language requirements apply.

Home/EU students only subject to residency requirements.

Application Instructions

When applying, please ensure we have received all of the following required documents by Wednesday 29th January 2020:

• Submit an online application form
• 2 academic references
• STFC Research Interests Form
• CV
• Undergraduate transcripts
- If you have completed your undergraduate degree, we will also require your undergraduate degree certificate
- If you have completed a postgraduate degree, we will also require your transcripts and degree certificate

If we do not have the required documents by the closing date, your application may not be considered for the studentship.

Interview Dates

26th February 2020 – In person
27th February 2020 – Skype only
28th February 2020 – Skype only
2nd March 2020 – Skype only
3rd March 2020 – Skype only
4th March 2020 – In person

Funding Notes

Funding Source: STFC Quota Studentship

3.5 year Studentship provides a tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates, stipend at UKRI rates and RTSG.


1. Milan, S. E., et al., Variations in polar cap area during two substorm cycles, Ann. Geophys., 21, 1121-1140, 2003.

2. Milan, S. E., et al., Magnetic flux transport in the Dungey cycle: A survey of dayside and nightside reconnection rates, J. Geophys. Res., 112, A01209, doi: 10.1029/2006JA011642, 2007.

3. Clausen, L. B. N., et al., Dynamics of the region 1 Birkeland current oval derived from the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), J. Geophys. Res., 117, A06233, doi: 10.1029/2012JA017666, 2012.

4. Coxon, J. C., et al., The magnitudes of the Birkeland currents observed by AMPERE and their role in solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 119, doi: 10.1002/2014JA020138, 2014.

5. Milan, S. E., et al., Overview of solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupling and the generation of magnetospheric currents, Space Sci. Rev., doi: 10.1007/s11214-017-0333-0, 2017.

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