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Electrodynamics of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupled system

Department of Physics and Astronomy

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Prof S Milan , Dr S Imber No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

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
Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject.
The University of Leicester English language (URL:
requirements apply where applicable.

Application advice
To apply please refer to
With your application, please include:
• CV
• Personal statement explaining your interest in the project, your experience and why we should consider you
• Degree Certificates and Transcripts of study already completed and if possible transcript to date of study currently being undertaken
• Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable
• In the reference section please enter the contact details of your two academic referees in the boxes provided or upload letters of reference if already available.
• STFC Research Interests Form 2021, to be completed online at
In the funding section please specify that you wish to be considered for Ref STFC 2021
In the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisors and project title (a proposal is not required)

Project / Funding Enquiries: [Email Address Removed]
Application enquiries to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This research project is one of a number of projects in the School of Physics. It is in competition for STFC funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding.
This project is eligible for a fully funded STFC studentship which includes :
• A full UK fee waiver for 3.5 years
• An annual tax free stipend of £15,285 (2020/2021)
• Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)
• Conference Fees & UK Fieldwork fund


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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