Two Funded PhD Opportunities – Solar and Magnetospheric Theory at the University of St Andrews

The Solar and Magnetospheric Theory Group (SMTG) in the School and Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, is looking for applicants for two funded PhD projects for a start in September/October 2024.

One project will be supervised by Dr Alexander Russell (, funded by the School and Mathematics and Statistics, on the subject of either Turbulent magnetic reconnection or Waves and instabilities in weakly-collisional plasmas.

The other project will be supervised by Dr Tom Elsden (, funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in the area of Modelling ultra-low frequency (ULF) waves in Earth’s magnetosphere.

Information about the PhD programme and application process, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, can be found at . The selection process will start on 1 March 2024 and will continue until a suitable candidate has been identified.

Please find further details on the University of St Andrews and the specific research projects below:

Supervised by Dr Alexander Russell:

  • A: Turbulent magnetic reconnection: Magnetic reconnection is responsible for many of the Sun’s most spectacular events including solar flares that affect technology at Earth. Understanding how magnetic reconnection works in the Sun, and especially the role of turbulence, is an important scientific goal that is currently making new progress thanks to insights from the latest-generation computer simulations. Your research in this area could include exploring how the reconnection process depends on global properties of the system or using mathematical tools to investigate the topology of magnetic fields inside the reconnection layer.
  • B: Waves and instabilities in weakly-collisional plasmas: The Sun’s corona (its outer atmosphere) has a temperature above one million Celsius, which is more than 100 times hotter than its visible surface. Maintaining this extremely high temperature requires heating, at least some of which is believed to be caused by waves and turbulence. Most mathematical knowledge about coronal heating by waves is based on a mathematical description called MHD, which unfortunately becomes invalid where key processes occur. The goal for this project is to investigate how coronal heating by waves extends to more suitable models that allow for pressure anisotropy.

Supervised by Dr Tom Elsden:

  • Modelling ultra-low frequency (ULF) waves in Earth’s magnetosphere: ULF waves are large scale and low frequency oscillations of Earth’s magnetic field which transport energy and momentum throughout the magnetosphere. They also play an important role in the acceleration of particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field to high energies, which create a dangerous environment for satellites and astronauts. This project will involve magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) computational modelling of these waves, as well as considering how they may contribute to particle acceleration. The emphasis of the project is computational/numerical and we expect the successful candidate to have coding experience or aptitude for numerical work.

The minimum academic entry requirement is a UK upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in Applied Mathematics, Physics or a closely related subject. Apart from excellent academic qualifications, we expect applicants to have the motivation and enthusiasm to enable them to successfully work on an extended research project in solar and magnetospheric theory.

The SMTG currently has 8 academic staff, 5 PDRAs and 10 PhD students. It is one of three research groups in the Applied Mathematics Division of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews. Both the SMTG and the Applied Mathematics Division run research seminar programmes during semester to help students develop a broad knowledge of their subject.

The School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St Andrews values diversity and nurtures an inclusive community where everyone is treated with dignity and respect regardless of individual characteristics such as age, gender, disability, religion or ethnicity. It is firmly committed to the progression of women, and other historically under-represented groups, in mathematics and holds a Bronze Award of the Athena SWAN programme for women in science. A growing proportion of our Ph.D. students are women, currently approximately 40%. The school supports the principles of the London Mathematical Society Good Practice Scheme.