Projects for 2021 Entry

Each year we offer a number of opportunities to study for a PhD under the supervision of academic staff in our group. Research topics include space and planetary physics, atmospheric physics and climate science, and laboratory astrophysics. If  you have any questions regarding the PhD program in SPAT, please contact the SPAT Admissions Coordinator using the email address spat.pg@imperial.ac.uk.

Life as a PhD student in the Space and Atmospheric Physics group

In this short video, atmospheric physics PhD student Eric Saboya gives an overview of what life is like studying in the Space and Atmospheric Physics group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projects on offer: Please click on the tabs below to find out about the opportunities that are available in each of our different research areas.

Projects for 2016 Entry

Atmospheric Physics

The following atmospheric physics projects are available for entry in October 2021:

  1. How does moisture affect the circulation of the atmosphere?
  2. Processes affecting tropical cyclone landfall
  3. Understanding how Earth is losing its cool: A study in support of the FORUM satellite mission
  4. Quantifying the radiative impacts of African landscape fires across multiple temporal and spatial scales
  5. The Gulf Stream as a modulator of atmospheric blocking and European temperature extremes
  6. The impact of subpolar water masses and coastal processes on the Gulf Stream

Projects 1, 2, 3, and 6 are offered via the NERC Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) Doctoral Training Partnership. Project 4 is offered via the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. Project 5 is offered via the EU funded Innovative Training Network called EDIPI (european weather Extremes: DrIvers, Predictability and Impacts).

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How does moisture affect the circulation of the atmosphere?

Supervisors: Paulo Ceppi(p.ceppi@ic.ac.uk) and Tim Woollings, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Oxford University 

Description: Future regional climate change will depend to a significant extent on changes in the atmospheric circulation, which determines the occurrence of many extreme events such as windstorms, heavy rainfall, and droughts. However, the variability and future response of the atmospheric circulation remain poorly understood, and climate models disagree in terms of their projections. 

The aim of the project is to understand the impact of moist processes (latent and cloud-radiative heating) on the variability of the mid-latitude circulation. The project will consider both the natural (unforced) variability of the circulation, and its future changes in response to greenhouse gas forcing. 

Specific questions to be addressed in the project will include:

  • Can moist processes enhance the persistence of jet stream anomalies?
  • How do moist processes contribute to future shifts in the position of the jet streams?
  • Do climate models differ in the representation of the interaction between moisture and atmospheric circulation? If so, how does this affect the variability of the jets and their future changes?

To address these questions, the student will perform experiments with a hierarchy of climate models, making it possible to compare the characteristics of jet stream variability with and without the effects of moist processes. These experiments will be interpreted using physical theory based on fluid dynamics. Climate model results will be compared with observational estimates of the moisture effects, with the aim of narrowing the range of model uncertainty in present-day variability and future projections.

Informal email enquiries about the project are welcome (p.ceppi@ic.ac.uk)

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Processes affecting tropical cyclone landfall

Supervisor: Prof Ralf Toumi (r.toumi@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: Tropical cyclones are amongst the most damaging weather phenomena affecting 100s of millions of people, causing fatalities and Billions of pounds of damage every year. Their impact is projected to increase in the future. While significant reduction of track errors has been achieved, the intensity forecasts remain extremely challenging with rapid intensification and de-intensification often not correctly predicted. This is particularly important as the cyclone makes landfall. The interaction of landfalling tropical cyclones with the ocean and land is complex with many processes involved. For example, tropical cyclones generate sea surface large waves which break as the cyclone reaches shallow water, and makes landfall. Recent research in our group has found that as waves break they can bring deeper, colder water up to the sea-surface and thus de-intensify the cyclone at the critical land falling stage. Another feature is that the cyclone may itself affect the position of landfall and penetration deep into land. The clustering of multiple landfalls in a year also remains poorly understood. Understanding unexpected, non-random, clustering of multiple landfall events is important for risk managers. 

The project will test mechanisms through data analysis and state of the art numerical modelling. You will simulate real cases of tropical cyclones to investigate the impact that these and other processes have on tropical cyclone intensity at landfall. You will be working with our partners in China and stakeholders in the financial sector.

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Understanding how Earth is losing its cool: A study in support of the FORUM satellite mission

Supervisors: Dr Caroline Cox (caroline.cox@stfc.ac.uk) & Dr Helen Brindley (h.brindley@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: What drives climate change and how can we constrain predictions of how the climate system will evolve in the future?  Studying the Earth’s Radiation Budget and, in particular, its outgoing longwave energy spectrum, offers a promising route to answering these questions.  Theoretical models suggest that globally half the radiation emitted by Earth back to space is at wavelengths greater than 15µm. This spectral region is referred to the far infrared and is strongly influenced by water vapour, cloud and, at high latitudes, surface properties: all of which are linked to key climate feedbacks. 

However, the Earth’s outgoing spectrum in the far infrared has never been measured.  This rather shocking oversight will change in the coming years.  NASA will launch the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) – a small cubesat mission focused on the polar regions - while a more comprehensive mission, FORUM (Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring) (https://www.forum-ee9.eu/) was recently selected to be the European Space Agency’s ninth ‘Earth Explorer Mission’. Since FORUM is scheduled for launch in the 2026/27 timeframe, this project represents a rare opportunity to be involved in the development of a satellite mission.  

Although the exact direction of this project is very open, one area of interest concerns the role of cirrus – high ice cloud - in the climate system. They are particularly interesting as, in contrast to other types of cloud, they are hypothesized to have a significant warming impact on climate, much of which is predicted to be realised in the far infrared.  FORUM will allow us to study the microphysics of these clouds and, using optimal estimation schemes developed at RAL, retrieve cloud properties from its measurements. To do this successfully requires the cirrus optical property models used in the retrievals to be tested, something that is possible in advance of the satellite launch using unique aircraft observations from Imperial’s Tropospheric Airborne Fourier Transform Spectrometer (TAFTS). Other areas of interest include exploiting TAFTS data for surface property and water vapour retrieval.  

Moreover, researchers within the Space and Atmospheric Physics group at Imperial have been tasked by ESA to develop a new aircraft-based instrument demonstrator for FORUM. As such there will be scope to help shape its design and build and, possibly, participate in scientific test flights.

If you are interested in finding out more about the project or applying please contact Dr Helen Brindley (h.brindley@imperial.ac.uk)

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Quantifying the radiative impacts of African landscape fires across multiple temporal and spatial scales

(This project is offered through the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, They will also have the benefit of becoming part of the NCEO, a distributed NERC Centre with significant expertise in observing and modelling biosphere-atmosphere interactions, including links to the carbon cycle.)

Supervisors: The studentship will be supervised by Dr Helen Brindley at Imperial College London and co-supervised by Professor Martin Wooster at King’s College London. Dr Brindley’s research focuses on the observation and interpretation of the Earth’s broadband and spectrally resolved outgoing energy. Professor Wooster is an expert in wildfire detection and monitoring from space, including linking their occurrence to their impact on atmospheric composition.

Wildfires play a fundamental role in the Earth system.  Globally, an area of the order 350 Mha is burned on an annual basis, with substantial associated carbon emissions.  The disturbance to the atmospheric and surface state caused by fire events can be sensed remotely from space using a variety of techniques, including identification of ‘hot-spots’, burnt area and fire radiative power as well as atmospheric impacts such as concentrations of certain gases and aerosols.

Termed by NASA the ‘fire continent’, more than half of all global annually burned area occurs in Africa.  While there has been a substantial amount of research focused on quantifying African fires and their gaseous and particulate emissions, and on investigating their interplay with cloud formation and development, work has tended to focus on specific locations within the continent and not on the overall impact of fire activity on top-of-atmosphere, atmospheric and surface radiative energy budgets at different scales.  Both temporal and spatial resolution are likely critical in correctly capturing the severity of fire events in terms of their instantaneous and longer-term radiative impacts.  Quantifying and understanding the drivers behind these scalings will also bring new insights as to how well the link between fire occurrence and radiative impact is, and can be expected to be, captured in current global Earth-system models.   

In this project we will primarily make use of high temporal resolution observations from two instruments onboard the geostationary Meteosat series of satellites, namely the the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI) and the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget (GERB) instrument, both viewing Africa from 2004 until the present day.   We will use the fire detection tools developed by co-supervisor Wooster and implemented operationally on the data stream coming from SEVIRI and use these alongside data from GERB, which is the only broadband instrument in geostationary orbit, and which assesses Earth’s outgoing energy fluxes every 15 minutes.  Alongside this information we will use burned area data mapped from a series of polar-orbiting satellites, such as the European Sentinels and NASA’s Terra and Aqua. Studies using synergistic data from SEVIRI and GERB have already established techniques to probe the radiative impacts of cloud and dust aerosol, and this project represents an ideal opportunity to develop and apply these approaches and insights to the specific challenge of wildfires.        

Aside from being the Principal Investigator for GERB, main supervisor Brindley is managing the involvement of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) in NERC’s UKESM Multi-centre project.  One area of future development for UKESM is the incorporation of a fully coupled wildfire scheme so it is anticipated that the research proposed here will inform this activity by providing observational tools for model evaluation and subsequent improvement.   

More information: For further information about the project and how to apply please contact h.brindley@imperial.ac.uk.

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The Gulf Stream as a modulator of atmospheric blocking and European temperature extremes

Supervisor: Dr Arnaud Czaja (a.czaja@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: This project is part of an EU funded Innovative Training Network called EDIPI (european weather Extremes: DrIvers, Predictability and Impacts) which is to start in March 2021. EDIPI is an international consortium of universities, research centres and private companies aiming to further our holistic understanding of temperature, precipitation (incl. drought) and surface wind extremes over Europe.

Within this broad theme, my project investigates specifically the role of the Gulf Stream in the predictability of the atmosphere at one to two months lead time. I am particularly interested in the dynamics occurring at cold and warm fronts embedded in the extra-tropical cyclones which travel towards Europe and how the interactions of these fronts with the Gulf Stream help build up “pools” of low potential vorticity at jet stream levels on these timescales (this measures with how much clockwise curvature the jet can meander). The project will be a mix of theoretical and data analysis, taking advantage of the large number of simulations and model outputs available across EDIPI.

You will be one of 14 PhD students joining EDIPI, with many interactive activities such as training workshops and secondments to other institutions (in my case ECMWF in Reading and LMD in Paris).

This position is funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme as part of Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant No. 956396. Further information for the applicants is available on the EDIPI website: https://edipi-itn.eu/

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The impact of subpolar water masses and coastal processes on the Gulf Stream

Main supervisor: Dr Arnaud Czaja (a.czaja@imperial.ac.uk); Second supervisors: Prof A. New and Dr D. Smeed, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; Additional partners:  Drs A. Blaker, J. Hirschi and B. Sinha, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton 

Project description: The Gulf Stream is an important element of the oceanic circulation, contributing significantly to setting the atmospheric storm track in the North Atlantic and also providing an important source of nutrients to ecosystems of the western North Atlantic (Follows and Williams, 2011). It has traditionally been thought that atmospheric (geostrophic) turbulence over the Labrador Sea was an important source of variability for the Gulf Stream, but such connection has proven elusive in observations and high resolution ocean models (e.g., Bower et al., 2011). Recently, we have instead suggested an entirely new pathway connecting changes in high latitudes with Gulf Stream changes further downstream through the impact of a subsurface coastal water mass called the Labrador Slope Water (New et al., 2021). The broad aim of this project is to assess the impact of this water mass on Gulf Stream stability, separation and transport and, more generally, the interaction between water masses formed along continental shelves and the oceanic interiors.

To do so we propose to analyse a suite of existing simulations at high resolution of ocean-only and fully coupled ocean-atmosphere models available from our partners at NOC. Both of these will allow the study of both the time mean effects and the pronounced decadal variability existing in the North Atlantic basin, in addition to deepening our understanding of the response of the North Atlantic ocean to climate change.

The main project supervisor is a co-PI of a joint NERC – NSF project on the interaction of the Gulf Stream with atmospheric frontal systems, run jointly with Profs R. Parfitt and W. Dewar at Florida State University in the USA. The successful applicant will become a member of this extended research team (3PIs, two PhD students and one postdoc).

References:

-Bower, A., S. Lozier, S. Gary, 2011: Export of Labrador Sea Water from the North Atlantic: A Lagrangian perspective, Deep Sea research II, 58, 1798-1818.

-Follows M. and R. Williams, 2011: Ocean Dynamics and the carbon cycle, Cambridge University Press.

-New A., et al., 2021: The westward spreading of Labrador Slope Water and its interaction with the Gulf Stream, in prep.

 

 

The impact of subpolar water masses and coastal processes on the Gulf Stream

Space Physics

The following space physics projects are available for entry in October 2021. Please contact the indivdual supervisors if you would like more information.

  1. Subsurface oceans of Galilean moons
  2. Bow shocks of Venus and Mercury
  3. Emissions from the coma of comet 67P
  4. How does the Sun create the solar wind?
  5. Plasma environment around Ganymede
  6. Probing the nonlinear dynamics of turbulence in space plasmas
  7. Surface waves above the magnetic poles

A summary (PDF format) of all the available projects can be downloaded from the following link: Space Physics 2021 Entry PhD Projects.

Please note: this is an open call for applications, but positions are generally filled following interviews in the January to March timeframe. The final number of studentships we have available is confirmed around this time. 

Studentships typically include a stipend to support living costs. Fees for home (UK, (pre-)settled status holder, indefinite leave to remain or enter) students, are covered, but not international student fees. EU students who do not have a (pre-)settled status will be considered international students. Applicants who are not UK nationals are particularly encouraged to contact supervisors before submitting an application.

We will be holding a virtual open day on Friday 15th January 2021 via Zoom. Potential supervisors will talk about their projects, and there will be opportunities to talk to individual supervisors in “breakout” rooms.

To sign up for the open day and receive joining instructions by email, please contact space.sec@imperial.ac.uk

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Subsurface oceans of Galilean moons

Supervisor: Dr. Ingo Mueller-Wodarg (i.mueller-wodarg@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: The Galilean moons of Jupiter (Europa, Ganymede, Callisto and Io) were discovered by Galileo in 1610. In the 1960s, ground-based telescope observations determined that Europa's surface composition is mostly water ice. The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft flew by Jupiter in the early 1970s, as did the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft in the late 1970s, discovering remarkably smooth (young) surfaces devoid of impact craters. The Galileo spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter in 1995 and showed that Jupiter's magnetic field was unexpectedly disrupted in the space around Europa and Ganymede. This strongly implied that a special type of magnetic field was being created (induced) within the moons by a deep layer of electrically conductive fluid beneath the surface. We believe this magnetic signature to be generated by a global ocean of salty water. The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) will be launched in 2022 to study amongst other the internal oceans of Ganymede and Europa. Imperial College lead the magnetic field instrument (MAG) and are Co-Leads of the Radio and Plasma Wave Instrument (RPWI).

In preparation for JUICE measurements we have developed a model to simulate (1) the electromagnetic induction processes and (2) the internal oceans at Ganymede & Europa. This work is as yet preliminary and your task will be to extend this work by addressing science questions including (1) What are the characteristic electro-magnetic signatures at Ganymede and Europa that are generated by the varying Jovian magnetic field and by internal ocean flows, and are the two sources distinguishable in observations? (2) What flows are induced inside Ganymede and Europa by gravitational tides and internal heat sources? (3) What are the observational requirements for JUICE to characterise internal ocean depths and flows?

To investigate these questions, you will need to further develop our existing models and potentially couple the currently separate models. You will need to apply the codes to Galileo magnetometer observations for initial investigations and work with the JUICE RPWI team to define observation plans and constraints. 

The ideal candidate should have a keen interest in solar system sciences, in particular all things electro-magnetic, solid computational and programming experience (at least one of Python, Matlab, IDL, Fortran) and strong mathematical skills since much of the work also requires in-depth understanding of the underlying mathematics and of numerically solving the coupled Maxwell equations. One part of the model work is an adaptation of the MITgcm model, so you will require knowledge of fluid dynamics too. Some knowledge of ionospheric physics is beneficial.

For more information about the JUICE mission please visit this website.

For more information about the MITgcm model, please visit this website.

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Bow shocks of Venus and Mercury

Supervisor: Dr Heli Hietala (h.hietala@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: Shock waves are ubiquitous throughout the universe and one of the main accelerators of high-energy particles in space. This particle radiation brings us information of faraway astrophysical objects, but also poses a threat to humans and satellites in space. Scientific spacecraft in our own Solar system allow us to directly investigate shock-related processes in great detail with directly measured electromagnetic fields and particles. Examples of such shock waves include planetary bow shocks and interplanetary shocks driven by coronal mass ejections. Recent observations from the Earth’s bow shock have demonstrated that non-linear dynamics lead to emergence of various smaller scale structures upstream and downstream of the main shock which affect particle energisation. Presently, three new spacecraft are travelling into the inner solar system: Solar Orbiter, Parker Solar Probe, and BepiColombo. Solar Orbiter carries a magnetic field instrument built at Imperial College. These spacecraft will perform several Venus and Mercury flybys (gravity assist manoeuvres), which will provide an unprecedented opportunity to study phenomena near their bow shocks.

The goal of the project is to study Venus’ and Mercury’s bow shocks to differentiate between universal and system specific processes. Working as a part of an international collaboration, you will uncover new knowledge of how fundamental plasma physics manifests itself in different environments. The project will involve analysis of novel data from the spacecraft, comparisons with relevant theory, and possibly modelling. Interested applicants are encouraged to contact the supervisor for further information.

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Emissions from the coma of comet 67P

Supervisor: Prof. Marina Galand (m.galand@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: The European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission is the first to escort a comet along its orbit. It gathered a unique and rich dataset from its arrival in summer 2014 (when comet 67P was at a distance of 3.6 AU from the Sun), through perihelion at 1.2 AU reached in August 2015, and then post-perihelion up to the end of mission on September 30, 2016 (at a distance of 3.8 AU from the Sun). Rosetta observed the cometary plasma and emissions from the coma throughout the escort phase, with variations with season, cometocentric distance, and heliocentric distance.

Why here: Marina is a Science Co-Investigator on the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC), including five sensors measuring the plasma, energetic particles, and magnetic field. She coordinated the RPC Enhanced Archiving activities which has consolidated the Rosetta RPC dataset (2016-2019). She is an Associate Scientist for the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA). The proposed project would be in collaborations with instrument teams from RPC, ROSINA, Alice, and OSIRIS in Europe and the US. The outcome of this project is highly relevant to the upcoming cometary ESA mission, Comet Interceptor, to be launched in 2028 and to fly by a dynamically-new comet. It includes three spacecraft: spacecraft A and probe B2 provided by ESA and probe B1 provided by the Japanese space agency, JAXA. Emissions will be observed from the three spacecraft in different spectral ranges, including lines measured from Rosetta. Marina is leading the magnetometer on the B2 probe and is a Science Co-Investigator for Comet Interceptor.

What you will do: The project would consist of the multi-instrumental analysis and interpretation of emissions in the ultraviolet and visible range and would include modelling development to link the different dataset together. It would build upon the recent multi-instrument analysis of ultraviolet emissions at large heliocentric distances (Galand et al. 2020). The project would extend this initial analysis to near perihelion. It would also include the development of a physics-based model to assess the visible emissions during the escort phase of Rosetta. Strong background in math and physics is required. Proficiency in programming (e.g., Matlab) is compulsory. Background in plasma or space physics is encouraged but not necessary.

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How does the Sun create the solar wind?

Supervisor: Prof. Tim Horbury (t.horbury@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: The Sun enables almost all life on Earth, but as a dynamic plasma object, it can also have damaging effects, called “space weather,” through variations in the solar wind and energetic particles that arrive at our planet. There is much that we don’t understand about how small scale dynamics on the Sun drives the solar wind, and how the Sun’s large scale magnetic field maps into interplanetary space. We have entered a new era in the exploration of the Sun and its effects on interplanetary space with the launch of two spacecraft: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe which is travelling far closer to the Sun than ever before, and ESA’s Solar Orbiter, which will reach inside Mercury’s orbit and take in situ and telescopic observations, helping us make the link between the Sun and space and answering questions about how the Sun affects Earth, as well as fundamental plasma physics processes such as turbulence, shocks and magnetic reconnection. We have important science roles in both missions and we built the magnetic field instrument on Solar Orbiter here in the Physics Department. In this project, you will analyse data from these two missions, along with those from other spacecraft near the Earth and elsewhere in the inner solar system, to study the formation and evolution of the solar wind and how regions on the Sun are connected to interplanetary space via the heliospheric magnetic field. This will involve combining both local measurements at the spacecraft, and remote, telescopic observations of the Sun. Combined with some numerical modelling and theory, this project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of the processes by which the solar wind is formed and the Sun’s activity affects near-Earth space. This is an exciting opportunity to be part of the discovery phase of two of the most exciting space missions for many years. You will need some programming skills; a knowledge of plasma physics would be an advantage.

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Plasma environment around Ganymede

Supervisor: Prof. Marina Galand (m.galand@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: The jovian icy moon, Ganymede, is the only moon in the Solar System to generate its own magnetic field while embedded in Jupiter’s magnetosphere. It hosts a thin atmosphere which is partially ionised and a sub-surface ocean of potentially salty water. Ganymede is the primary scientific target of the ESA/Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission (launch: 2022; arrival at Jupiter: 2030), which is anticipated to orbit Ganymede in 2032 for over 9 months. JUICE goals include studying the complex Ganymede-Jupiter plasma and electromagnetic interactions and constraining the sub-surface liquid layer indirectly, which requires a very good assessment of the plasma environment. 

Why here: Marina is a Science Co-I for the Radio and Plasma Investigation (RPWI) and the UltraViolet Spectrometer (UVS) on JUICE. Under her supervision, Gianluca Carnielli (PhD 2019) developed the first 3D ion kinetic model of the ion population around Ganymede (Carnielli et al. Icarus 2019). This tool has been applied for interpreting Galileo observations during a close flyby of Ganymede (Carnielli et al. Icarus 2020a) and for the first estimate of ionospheric ion sputtering on the surface of Ganymede as a contributor to its thin atmosphere (Canielli et al.  Icarus 2020b). Output of the 3D kinetic model has been used by the JUICE/RPWI team for preliminary assessment of the operability of plasma sensors (Gilet, PhD, 2019). This modelling work has been (and the present project would be) in close collaborations with international colleagues, in particular at LATMOS/Sorbonne University (France), at the University of Michigan (USA), at the Côte d’Azur Observatory (France), and at the SouthWest Research Institute (USA).

What you will do: The proposed, modelling project would build upon our 3D ion test-particle code.  The first step would be to get familiar with the model and to exploit it further, applying it to new conditions and geometry. Next, the development of new modules would be undertaken in order to constrain the ionisation and to estimate auroral emissions. Strong background in math and physics is required. Very high proficiency in programming (e.g., C, Fortran) is compulsory. Background in plasma or space physics is encouraged but not necessary.

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Probing the nonlinear dynamics of turbulence in space plasmas

Supervisor: Dr Julia E. Stawarz (j.stawarz@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: Turbulence is a fundamental physical process in both neutral fluids, such as the ocean and atmosphere, and plasmas, such as the solar wind, planetary magnetospheres, interstellar medium, and black hole accretion discs. In the context of space and astrophysical plasmas, turbulence plays a key role in the acceleration and heating of particles, structure formation, particle scattering, and energy transport. However, despite its important role in these systems, the highly nonlinear, multi-scale nature of this phenomenon makes it one of the most enigmatic problems in classical physics.

With four closely spaced satellites and measurements up to 100x faster than other missions, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission provides an exciting opportunity to directly compute and analyse the nonlinear terms in the dynamical equations describing the plasma. This project will involve using a combination of theory and cutting-edge observations from the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission to directly examine the nonlinear dynamics of plasmas in near-Earth space in greater detail than has been possible with any other space mission. The work will push the boundaries of our understanding of plasma turbulence and help to answer fundamental questions such as:

  • What is the relative importance of linear and nonlinear dynamics in plasma turbulence?
  • How do the turbulence dynamics change across different scales and for different plasma conditions?
  • How is turbulence dissipated in space plasmas?

There will also be the opportunity to work closely with collaborators both in the UK and internationally to compare the results to large-scale direct numerical simulations and apply the findings to exciting new solar wind observations from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and ESA’s Solar Orbiter.

More information: Julia Stawarz is a Royal Society University Research Fellow, a member of the science team for the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, and works closely with Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter. Her research focuses on the fundamental physics of turbulence, magnetic reconnection and other small scale plasma phenomena, as well as their impact on Earth’s magnetosphere and the solar wind. This PhD studentship is funded by the Royal Society with funding available to support participation in national and international scientific conferences.

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Surface waves above the magnetic poles

Supervisor: Dr Martin Archer (m.archer10@imperial.ac.uk) and Dr Jonathan Eastwood (jonathan.eastwood@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: Earth’s magnetosphere is a complex and dynamic plasma environment with physical processes that affect our everyday technology. The impulsive events that drive this space weather can excite surface waves akin to the vibrating membrane of a drum at the interface of the solar wind – magnetosphere interaction, a response that was only recently confirmed using observations from several satellites simultaneously. These surface waves should map to magnetic field lines near the poles, directing solar wind energy into the top of the ionosphere. However, the potential ground-based signatures of this process are still not understood since the complicated magnetic geometry in this region pose a challenge to model. The project will use two complementary approaches:

  • Cutting-edge simulations: Imperial has developed and hosts Gorgon, the UK’s only global physics-based simulation of Earth’s magnetosphere, which you will use to predict the signatures of surface waves as they approach the magnetic poles.
  • Novel satellite observations: Using magnetic field measurements over the poles from the miniaturised RadCube CubeSat mission in low Earth orbit you will determine the properties of waves entering the ionosphere.

This will develop our understanding of the fundamental dynamics present in our space environment and how they relate to space weather effects seen on the ground such as the aurorae.

Laboratory Spectroscopy

The following laboratory spectroscopy projects are available for entry in October 2021.

Laboratory Astrophysics: Spectroscopy of astrophysically important elements and applications of the new atomic data to astrophysics.

Supervisor: Prof Juliet Pickering (j.pickering@imperial.ac.uk)

Description: The spectra of planetary atmospheres and stars are usually extremely complex: all the elements of the periodic table may contribute, as molecules or atoms in more than one stage of ionisation, blends of several lines are the rule rather than the exception. New high resolution spectrographs on ground- and space based telescopes give exciting spectra of stars and planetary atmospheres, but the laboratory atomic data (atomic energy levels, wavelengths etc) that are vital for the interpretation of the astrophysical spectra, are often too inaccurate and incomplete. Vast improvements are needed in many cases in knowledge of atomic spectra in the laboratory.

The Space & Atmospheric Physics group’s Spectroscopy Laboratory has a Fourier Transform spectrometer which is unique - holding the short wavelength record for an instrument of its kind, and with its very high resolution and broad spectral range is ideal for studies of astrophysically important atoms and ions in the visible to ultra violet spectral range. Once an atomic spectrum has been recorded in the laboratory, an analysis of the spectrum is carried out to yield new atomic parameters over a broad spectral range (infra red through to ultraviolet) at unprecedented accuracy. We collaborate internationally on applications of the new atomic data. Examples include our work on the Gaia ESO survey of 100,000s Galactic stars to understand Galactic evolution.

Research Objectives:An STFC funded Ph.D. project is available to investigate astrophysically important atomic spectra using high resolution spectroscopy. Spectra to be studied will be carefully selected to be most relevant and urgently needed for astrophysics applications. The initial stage of the project is experimental in nature with spectra being studied in the UV and visible spectral region at Imperial College, and in the infra-red possibly at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (USA) or in Lund University (Sweden), with whom we regularly collaborate. The student would then undertake a full analysis of the spectra. We anticipate collaboration with theoretical atomic physics groups during this analysis stage. The new atomic data will then be applied in particular astrophysical spectral analyses through collaboration with astronomers. Examples of our recent research include working with teams investigating topics as diverse as Galactic evolution, time variation of the Fundamental constants, and understanding neutron star mergers.

You will gain:experimental expertise in a world-class laboratory, using unique instruments; experience undertaking experiments in laboratories abroad; learn about atomic physics; skills in theoretical analysis of spectra learning computational and analytical skills; experience working on applications of the new atomic data to analyses of particular astrophysical spectra.

The strongest candidates will have a first class degree in physics or astrophysics. This PhD suits a student who enjoys a combination of computational, analytical and experimental work. 

How to apply?

If you have any questions regarding the PhD program in SPAT, please contact the SPAT Admissions Coordinator using the email address spat.pg@imperial.ac.uk.

Follow this link to be redirected to PhD application forms

Once you have submitted your application online, please save the full application in pdf format and send a copy to the SPAT Admissions Coordinator and the SPAT Group Administration at spat.pg@imperial.ac.uk and space.sec@imperial.ac.uk

President's PhD Scholarship

The President's PhD Scholarship offers full tuition fees and a generous stipend for a PhD place at Imperial College London. Up to 50 students across the College are funded each year, with no restriction on nationality. However, it should be emphasised that this is an extremely competitive award, which is reserved for candidates of exceptional academic achievement, as well as demonstrated commitment to research. The Space and Atmospheric Physics group is proud to have hosted several President's PhD Scholars in recent years.

Successful candidates are typically one of the top students in their graduating cohort, have experience of research, and often have authored or co-authored peer-reviewed journal articles as an undergraduate. 

The first step in the process is to make contact with a prospective supervisor. We are very happy to support competitive applications - if you are interested in working with a particular academic, please contact them directly, details are here. If one of the projects listed on this page is of particular interest, please do let us know.

The group is limted in the number of candidates that it can support. We therefore encourage you to make early contact with prospective supervisors. We will consider applicants at the next deadline which is:

  • 20 November 2020

If you have any questions regarding the PhD program in SPAT, please contact the SPAT Admissions Coordinator using the email address spat.pg@imperial.ac.uk.