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Extreme Events in Space Plasmas: A Physics Informed Neural Networks Approach (Advert ref: NUDATA23/MPEE/RATLIFF)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Daniel Ratliff  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About the Centre for Doctoral Training

This project is being offered as part of the STFC Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Intensive Science, called NUdata, which is a collaboration between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, STFC, and a portfolio of over 40 industrial partners, including SMEs, large/multinational companies, Government and not-for profit organisations, and international humanitarian organisations. Please visit for full information.

PhD project description

Our planet, like others, is surrounded by a plasma known as the magnetosphere that is home to a zoo of different, exotic waves. Such waves interact with the particles within this plasma to transport and redistribute energy throughout near-Earth space and by doing so generate a whole host of interesting and important phenomena. Some of these events can pose significant risks to space missions and satellites, where energy or radiation spikes can cause damage to space infrastructure and hazards to astronauts. Given how dangerous these scenarios are, is it possible to predict how, where and when these events occur?

 This is the question you will seek to answer in this project by using a blend of cutting-edge techniques in applied nonlinear science and data analysis. With the use of physics informed neural networks (PINNs), you will:

  • Study data from NASA missions including the Van Allen probes, THEMIS and MMS to identify suitable nonlinear models which govern these waves and validate their accuracy,
  • Use parameter discovery within PINNs to estimate crucial properties of space plasmas that space missions cannot accurately measure, such as the low-energy electron and ion number density.
  • pioneer the study into new indices, guided by PINNs and the science underpinning wave forecasting in our oceans, suggesting when and where extreme wave activity can be expected within the magnetosphere.

In doing so, you will be paving the way for a new wave-based forecasting model within space plasmas and increase our understanding of the dynamics driving the plasma surrounding us.

This project is suitable for applicants with a background in either physics or applied mathematics. An understanding of either plasma physics or nonlinear waves is advantageous but not essential. Experience in scientific computing is beneficial, but we will provide you with the necessary computational training and support required for this project. The Solar and Space and Mathematics of Complex and Nonlinear Phenomena groups, experts in space weather, radiation belts, dispersive hydrodynamics and wave phenomena, provide a welcoming and inclusive environment to all students regardless of background and pathway. Your PhD experience will be supplemented with regular research seminars, professional development courses and summer schools. The NUdata CDT will enable you to attend UK and international conferences to experience recent advances first-hand from experts in the field and to present your own work to the space physics community.

Recruitment Event

You will join a strong and supportive research team. To help better understand the aims of the CDT and to meet the PhD supervisors, we are hosting a day-long event on campus on Monday 9th January 2023.

At that event, there will be an opportunity to discuss your research ideas, meet potential PhD supervisors, as well as hear from speakers from a variety of backgrounds (academia, industry, government, charity) discussing both STFC and data science as well as their personal paths and backgrounds. Click here for details.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 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 they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a 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.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

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

Please note:

You must include the relevant advert reference/studentship code (e.g. NUDATA23/…) in your application.

If you are interested in more than one of the Northumbria-hosted NUdata research projects, then you can say this in the cover letter of your application and you can rank up to three projects you are interested in (i.e. first choice, second choice, third choice). You are strongly encouraged to do this, since some projects are more popular than others. You only need to submit one application even if you are interested in multiple projects (we recommend you submit your application to your first choice).

We offer all applicants full guidance on the application process and on details of the CDT. For informal enquiries, email Professor James McLaughlin ([Email Address Removed]). Please contact the Principal Supervisor of the project(s) for project-specific enquiries.

Deadline for applications: 31st January 2023

Start Date: 25th September 2023

Funding Notes

The studentship supports a full stipend, paid for four years at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year), full tuition fees and a Research Training and Support Grant (for conferences, travel, etc).
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