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  Mapping the global structure of nonlinear dynamics in Earth’s magnetosphere using machine learning (Ref: NUDATA24-R/EE/MPEE/STAWARZ)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

  Dr Julia Stawarz  Sunday, June 02, 2024  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Overview of the CDT

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.

Project Description

A key question in the study of magnetospheric physics – which is key to understanding how the sun & stars interact with magnetised objects and to topics such as space weather - is understanding the global structure, variation, and interaction of the small-scale, nonlinear plasma processes, which control the flow of mass, momentum, and energy from the solar wind and through the magnetospheric system. These processes can include turbulence, instabilities, waves, and kinetic electric field activity.

Observations of Earth’s magnetosphere and other plasma environments within our solar system have been collected by a vast array of different spacecraft since the dawn of the space age. However, developing a global-scale picture of these small-scale processes across the magnetosphere is challenging due to the sparse nature of spacecraft measurements at any given time. The large amount of data obtained by multiple spacecraft across time can be used to overcome this challenge.

The goal of this project will be to use data mining and machine learning techniques to map out the characteristics of the small-scale nonlinear processes across Earth’s magnetosphere as a function of solar wind driving and the state of the magnetosphere. These results will enable you to further explore the underlying physics and connection between these nonlinear process and influence that they have on the magnetosphere as a whole. Through this project you will have the opportunity to work with data from a variety of NASA and ESA spacecraft including the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, THEMIS, ARTEMIS, Cluster, & more and make contributions to the field that will allow us to capitalise on the vast array of data that has been obtained from these spacecraft in new ways.

We welcome applicants with backgrounds in physics, computer science, mathematics, or related disciplines. Prior experience in some aspect plasma physics, spacecraft data analysis, scientific computing, or machine learning would be a benefit, but is not required, and we will support you and provide training such that you can develop the skills to be successful in your project. You will have the opportunity to attend summer schools and scientific conferences in the UK and internationally to both develop your knowledge of space plasma physics and present the results.

 Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr Julia Stawarz. For informal queries, please contact . For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please contact Admissions at

You will join a strong and supportive research team. The very best way to get a taste of this is to come and visit the Research Group in person, meet your fellow PhD students, and meet the PhD supervisors. We have funding to support all UK National applicants who wish to visit the research group (with funding to fully cover reasonable travel and accommodation costs). Please contact Head of Group Professor James McLaughlin if you are interested in visiting the Group, and we can arrange travel arrangement (and cover these costs). Also feel free to contact individual PhD supervisors if this is better for you.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities with preference for 1st class honours); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above);
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

To be classed as a Home student, candidates must:

  • 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. 

For further details on how to apply see  

You must include the relevant advert reference (e.g. NUDATA24-R/…) 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 all the projects you are interested in (e.g. 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).

Deadline for applications : 2nd June 2024

Start date of course :  23rd September 2024

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our postgraduate research students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Leader, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers and are members of the Euraxess initiative to deliver information and support to professional researchers.

Computer Science (8) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The 4-year studentship is available to Home students only (see definition above) and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2024/25 full-time study this is £19,237 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis in combination with work or personal responsibilities.


Stawarz et al. "Turbulence-Driven Magnetic Reconnection and the Magnetic Correlation Length: Observations from Magnetospheric Multiscale in Earth’s Magnetosheath” (2022), Physics of Plasmas, 29, 012302, doi:10.1063/5.0071106.
Stawarz et al. "Generation of High-Frequency Electric Field Activity by Turbulence in the Earth’s Magnetotail” (2015), Journal of Geophysical Research, 120, 1845–1866, doi:10.1002/2014JA020166.
Stawarz et al. “Observations of Turbulence in a Kelvin-Helmholtz Event on 8 September 2015 by the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission” (2016), Journal of Geophysical Research, 121, 11021–11034, doi:10.1002/2016JA023458.

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