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  Plasma thermodynamics of the inner heliosphere with Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe (Advert Reference: STFC22/EE/MPEE/WICKSRobert)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Prof Robert Wicks  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

One of the most important unanswered questions in astrophysics is: how do ions and electrons get hot in plasma that effectively has no collisions between particles? One way that we can directly investigate the heating processes is to observe an astrophysical plasma first hand by measuring the solar wind, the hot and fast outflow of plasma from the Sun. The solar wind has the interesting property that electrons in the flow are, on average, about 30% hotter than the ions. It is not known whether this difference in temperature is generated in the solar corona before the solar wind is launched into interplanetary space, or caused by local heating processes related to the dissipation of turbulence in the solar wind itself. Either way, the ions and electrons must be interacting with electromagnetic fields in the plasma to gain and distribute energy. To investigate exactly which mechanisms move energy between the ions, electrons, and the electromagnetic fields involves theoretical understanding of kinetic plasma physics and electromagnetism and data analysis of observations taken by spacecraft. The student will work to answer the questions: What processes heat ions and electrons near the Sun? Why are electrons hotter than ions? How does the expansion of the solar wind affect these heating and acceleration processes?

The student will use data recorded by the new ESA Solar Orbiter (SO) and NASA Parker Solar Probe (PSP) missions to measure at the ions, electrons and electromagnetic fields closer to the Sun than ever studied before. The primary work of the PhD will be data analysis by spectral techniques such as Fourier transforms and wavelets, as well as statistical analysis of large data sets using machine learning and other big-data analysis techniques. Students will need to have studied undergraduate physics or mathematics and it is an advantage to have some experience of programming in Python, Matlab, or IDL or a similar language, although training in this will be provided as part of the PhD.

The student will have the opportunity to present their work at national and international conferences and publish work in leading scientific journals. By the end of the PhD, the student will have learned scientific writing, coding for data analysis, methods for visualising data, presenting of complex material to a wide audience, and how to manage their own small projects. The student will participate in SO SWA team meetings, learning how particle sensors designed for space science work and are operated, and working with the world-leading scientists of the SO and PSP missions.

The principal supervisor for this project is Dr. Robert Wicks (E-mail: [Email Address Removed]).

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      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 currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD. 

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

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. STFC22/EE/MPEE/WICKSRobert) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 1st March 2022

Start Date: 1st October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Computer Science (8) Engineering (12) Mathematics (25) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home* or International (including EU) Students and includes a full stipend, paid for 3.5 years at RCUK rates (for 2021/2, this is £15,609 p.a.) and full tuition fees.
* Please note that in order to be classed as 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.


A Quasi-linear Diffusion Model for Resonant Wave-Particle Instability in Homogeneous Plasma, Jeong, S. Y., Verscharen, D., Wicks, R. T. & Fazakerley, A. N., 20 Oct 2020, Astrophysical Journal. 902, 2, 15 p., 128.
Determining the Bulk Parameters of Plasma Electrons from Pitch-Angle Distribution Measurements, Nicolaou, G., Wicks, R., Livadiotis, G., Verscharen, D., Owen, C. & Kataria, D., 16 Jan 2020, Entropy. 22, 1, 103.
On the Determination of Kappa Distribution Functions from Space Plasma Observations
Nicolaou, G., Livadiotis, G. & Wicks, R. T., 13 Feb 2020, Entropy. 22, 2, 212.
The Solar Orbiter Science Activity Plan: Translating solar and heliospheric physics questions into action
Zouganelis, I., De Groof, A., Walsh, A. P., Williams, D. R., Müller, D., St Cyr, O. C., Auchère, F., Berghmans, D., Fludra, A., Horbury, T. S., Howard, R. A., Krucker, S., Maksimovic, M., Owen, C. J., Rodríguez-Pacheco, J., Romoli, M., Solanki, S. K., Watson, C., Sanchez, L., Lefort, J. & 165 others, 1 Oct 2020, Astronomy & Astrophysics. 642, 19 p., A3.
Parallel-propagating Fluctuations at Proton-kinetic Scales in the Solar Wind Are Dominated By Kinetic Instabilities, Woodham, L. D., Wicks, R. T., Verscharen, D., Owen, C. J., Maruca, B. A. & Alterman, B. L., 18 Oct 2019, The Astrophysical Journal. 884, 2, 6 p., L53.
Tests for coronal electron temperature signatures in suprathermal electron populations at 1 AU, Macneil, A. R., Owen, C. J. & Wicks, R. T., 1 Dec 2017, Annales Geophysicae. 35, 6, p. 1275-1291 17 p.
A Case for Electron Astrophysics, Verscharen, D., Wicks, R. T., & 28 others, Aug 2019, arXiv:1908.02206,
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