Predicting the source regions of solar energetic particles using machine learning techniques (Ref: NUDATA24/EE/YARDLEY)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Stephanie Yardley, Prof James McLaughlin  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

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

We invite applications for a 4 year fully-funded PhD project that will enable you to gain expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to address a key problem in the field of space weather forecasting.

The Sun is the most powerful particle accelerator in our Solar System as it regularly produces eruptions that can shock-accelerate particles (SEPs, protons, electrons and ions) to high-energies. These SEP events that are associated with high-energy protons can cause hazardous space weather conditions in the near-Earth environment, posing a severe radiation risk for crewed spaceflight and a significant threat to our technological assets. The problem with these events is that the most energetic particles arrive at Earth within several minutes of the associated eruption being identified in solar observations, which does not give the users of space weather forecasts sufficient warning to react. The key solution to mitigate the risk of SEPs is to predict these events prior to eruption and the generation of SEPs, which requires their source regions to be identified in advance.

This project will allow you to develop expertise in artificial intelligence, particularly in machine learning and data science. You will use a wealth of observations from multitude of satellite missions such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory in order to increase our understanding of SEP source regions and hence improve predictions of SEP occurrence. The skills that you will develop during your PhD will ensure that you are in a strong position to pursue a career in either solar physics research and/or data science after your PhD.


You will join a strong and diverse Solar and Space Physics group, which conducts high-impact research, plays a leading role in multiple solar instruments and missions, and provides a supportive and welcoming environment to carry out your research. This PhD project is suitable for applicants that have an undergraduate and/or Masters degree in related fields such as Physics, Astrophysics, Mathematics and Computer Science. Prior experience in the analysis of solar datasets and/or machine learning techniques would be beneficial for the project but all of the required relevant training will be provided. You will be expected to conduct research that will result in journal publications, engage in scientific collaborations, and present your work at national and international conferences.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr Stephanie Yardley. For informal queries, contact Professor James McLaughlin ([Email Address Removed]). For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process contact Admissions at [Email Address Removed]. 

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 15th January 2024. 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 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.

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. 

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 It is important that you read this information 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.
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be paid by the University.

 For further details on how to apply see  

You must include the relevant advert reference/studentship code (e.g. NUDATA24/…) 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 : 31st January 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) Mathematics (25) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The 4-year studentship is available to Home and international (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2023/24 full-time study this was £18,622 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.


Yardley, S.L., Green, L.M., James, A.W., Stansby, D., & Mihailescu, T., The Magnetic Field Environment of Active Region 12673 that produced the Energetic Particle Events of September 2017, 2022, ApJ, 937, 2, 57, https://10.3847/1538-4357/ac8d69
Brooks, D.H., & Yardley, S.,L., Signature and Escape of Highly Fractionated Plasma in an Active Region, 2021, MNRAS, 508, 2, 1831,
Brooks, D.H., & Yardley, S.L., The Source of the Major Solar Energetic Particle Events from Super Active Region 11944, 2021, Science Advances, 7, 10, eabf0068,

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