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How does the solar wind change as it expands?

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 31, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The solar wind is the tenuous plasma emitted by the Sun that fills the heliosphere. It is the local astrophysical plasma of the Earth and provides a unique environment to observe naturally occurring plasma generated by a star. There are some big open questions in astrophysical plasmas that we hope to answer by studying the solar wind: how do plasmas that have such low density that they do not have collisions between particles heat up? How do large-scale motions in such collisionless plasmas cause turbulence and dissipate? How does expansion of the plasma away from the star change the small-scale processes in the plasma?

Parker Solar Probe was launched in August 2018 and has now completed 3 orbits of the Sun, reaching closest approach at only 30 solar radii from the Sun. In February 2020 Solar Orbiter will be launched with a mission to investigate the origins of the solar wind. This project aims to use cutting edge novel observations from these missions to understand and quantify how ions and electrons interact with electromagnetic fluctuations in the plasma to exchange energy and heat, even though there are very few collisions between particles. The student that takes this project will analyse measurements of magnetic and electric fields, proton and electron distributions at different distances from the Sun to explore how expansion changes the properties of the plasma turbulence and dissipation. This will focus on how kinetic particle physics of the plasma channels energy from the turbulence and the global expansion of the solar wind into different modes of heating or cooling.

The aim of the project is to show that both kinetic plasma physics and global dynamics are essential to explain collisionless plasma behaviour.

Desired Knowledge and Skills

• Undergraduate in physics
• Ability to use data analysis software, e.g. Matlab, IDL, Python, or similar.


Applications submitted by 31st January 2020 will be given full consideration. We will continue accepting applications until all places are filled. After we receive your application, we will select candidates for interviews. If you are selected, you will be invited for an interview at MSSL. You will have the opportunity to see the laboratory, students' flats and talk to current students. The studentships are for the advertised projects only. In your application, please specify which project you want to apply for.

To apply, please visit the Online Application page, select department of "Space & Climate Physics" and programme type of "Postgraduate Research". After pushing "Search Now" button, select "RRDSPSSING01: Research Degree: Space and Climate Physics" for Full-time or Part-time mode.
Our Online Applications page can be found here:

Entry requirements

An upper second-class Bachelor’s degree, or a second-class Bachelor’s degree together with a Master's degree from a UK university in a relevant subject, or an equivalent overseas qualification.

Students from the UK or those from the EU who meet the residency requirements (3 years' full-time residency in the UK) are potentially eligible for a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) studentship.

Funding Notes

These pay UK/EU tuition fees and a maintenance allowance for 3.5 years (subject to the PhD upgrade review).

EU students who do not meet eligibility requirements still qualify for the UK/EU fees rate, but not the STFC maintenance allowance.

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