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  Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to forecast Earth’s Van Allen Radiation Belts (Ref: NUDATA24/EE/MPEE/RAE)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Prof Jonathan Rae  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

Understanding the effects of space weather on modern technology is fast becoming a critical component of space research. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and numerical physics-based modelling are vital to this effort. 

Severe “space weather” happens when ejecta launched from explosions on the solar surface impact the Earth’s magnetic shield, energising particles to relativistic energies and driving unwanted currents at ground level in transmission lines and pipelines. These particles and currents pose a significant hazard to modern technology and, as a consequence, are important enough to be included in the UK Government’s National Risk Register.

We have expansive and rich scientific observational datasets obtained by dedicated space missions and ground-based instruments. Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence allow us to produce data-driven forecasts and extract physics-based understanding of the key drivers of these forecasts. This project will give you the opportunity to use machine learning and explainable AI to produce forecasts of dangerous high-energy electrons in Earth’s Radiation Belt. Physical realism of the forecasts will be strongly targeted.

You will have access to research leaders and knowledge experts in our field joining our large collaborative team that includes scientists at Northumbria University and experts from around the globe (e.g. from New Zealand, Canada and the US). You will have the opportunity to travel to work directly with our collaborators, as well as to present your work at conferences in the UK and internationally.


You will have access to state-of-the-art computing resources and training courses. In addition to regular one-to-one meetings with supervisors, you will be encouraged to participate in wider group activities to build up your research profile and collaborate with national and international colleagues. You will have access to specific Masters-level modules in relevant physics and data science to build up knowledge and skills in subject-specific areas, and a series of seminars from national and international experts in the field. You will benefit from national summer schools that develop both discipline-specific and transferable skills and there will be potential opportunities to attend international summer schools both in Europe and the US (e.g. NSF GEM Summer workshop, Los Alamos Space Weather Summer School).


We welcome applicants with a background in physics, computer science, applied mathematics, engineering or other closely-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.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Professor Jonathan Rae. For informal queries, please contact [Email Address Removed]. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please 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.

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.


A New Four-Component L*-Dependent Model for Radial Diffusion Based on Solar Wind and Magnetospheric Drivers of ULF Waves
Murphy, K.R., Sandhu, J., Rae, I.J., ...Angelopoulos, V., Wygant, J.
Space Weather, 2023, 21(7), e2023SW003440

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