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Next-generation models of radiation belt to assess importance of different acceleration and loss mechanisms (Advert ref: NUDATA23/MPEE/WATT)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Prof Clare Watt  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

Space weather lies at the intersection of astronomy and meteorology, and the focus of this project is the space weather of Earth’s radiation belts. Decades of observation has revealed that the high-energy environment of Earth’s outer radiation belt is highly variable. These variations in the amount of high energy electrons, and the extent of the outer belt, are ultimately caused by the solar wind. However, there is a large amount of processing of solar wind energy by Earth’s magnetosphere, through storage, acceleration and loss mechanisms. As a result, accurate prediction of changes in the Earth’s outer radiation belt remains challenging.

We have recently made advances in physics-based modelling of radiation belt electrons where we have explored techniques successful in the terrestrial atmospheric and climate community. Like the terrestrial ocean-atmosphere system, the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere environment is a complex and nonlinear system with significant variability. We have used ensemble modelling with stochastic parameterisation to embrace the inherent variability of the magnetospheric system and provide probabilistic modelling solutions [see publications below].

In this project, you will get the opportunity to extend the model to more realistic configurations, investigate physics-based parameterisations and gain skills in ensemble and probabilistic modelling. Through this work, you will get the chance to design and run numerical experiments that can identify the relative importance of different physical mechanisms at work in the radiation belt. Our research group provides a welcoming and supportive research environment with a wide range of stimulating research in solar physics, the solar wind, magnetospheres and ionospheres as well as comets. There are a range of seminars, journal clubs and other group activities to support you to grow as an independent researcher in addition to the benefits of the NUdata CDT.

We welcome applicants with a background in physics, applied mathematics, computer science or other related disciplines. Prior experience in scientific computing or plasma physics is a benefit, but we will support you to gain all the skills you need to do your project. You will get the opportunity to attend summer schools in space plasma physics in the UK and Europe to further your subject-specific knowledge, and we will support you to travel to international conferences to present your findings. During your PhD you will also get the opportunity to meet and discuss your work with space weather stakeholders, such as the UK Met Office, in order to explore potential benefits of your project beyond academia.

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 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) [Email Address Removed] 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).


Watt C.E.J., Allison H.J., Bentley S.N., Thompson R.L., Rae I.J., Allanson O., Meredith N.P., Ross J.P.J., Glauert S.A., Horne R.B., Zhang S., Murphy K.R., Rasinskaitė D. and Killey S. (2022) Temporal variability of quasi-linear pitch-angle diffusion. Front. Astron. Space Sci. 9:1004634. doi: 10.3389/fspas.2022.1004634
Watt, C.E.J.; Allison, H.J.; Thompson, R.L.; Bentley, S.N.; Meredith, N.P. ; Glauert, S.A. ; Horne, R.B. ; Rae, I.J.. 2021 The implications of temporal variability in wave‐particle interactions in Earth's Radiation Belts. Geophysical Research Letters, 48 (1), e2020GL089962. 10, pp.
Thompson, R. L., Watt, C. E. J., & Williams, P. D. (2020). Accounting for variability in ULF wave radial diffusion models. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027254.
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