A Model for Solar Flares and Coronal Heating based on Magnetohydrodynamic Avalanches
How would you describe your research project?
My research is in solar magnetohydrodynamics. In particular, like many in the St Andrews MHD group, I work on the coronal heating problem. I run 3D MHD codes to explore how the magnetic field and plasma interact to heat the corona through MHD avalanches. Here, local instabilities can start a chain of recurring, reconnection-triggered heating events, which maintain a hot corona across a spectrum of spatial and temporal scales.
What attracted you to undertake your research at St Andrews?
Studying solar MHD in St Andrews places me in a large group with a strong record of publications. The Group offers significant opportunities across the breadth of research within the field, and maintains collaborations and connections with many researchers across other institutions in the country. The wider University embarks upon highest-quality research, in many cases leading, while doing so from a comfortable, lovely, and remarkable environment.
How has the School of Mathematics and Statistics helped you with your research or to develop your skills and knowledge?
I know that I have benefited from the presence of the other research groups aside from own: with members of staff knowledgeable in analysis, fluid dynamics, and statistics among others, there is a wealth of expertise, which the amiability of all makes easy to tap. Since mathematical, and indeed all, knowledge is not strongly divided or truly modularized, it is sometimes necessary to get advice from across quite different fields, particularly when all in the School rely upon the same underlying mathematical toolkit. In our work, numerical simulation and modelling are cornerstone tools: in this, the School's access to computational resources, within the University and elsewhere, is a major asset.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
Almost no undergraduate can answer that, and it is an even more difficult question for PhD students! Since postgraduates work far harder, it is difficult to look beyond graduation. However, I am currently exploring the possibilities that having a PhD offers, including remaining within academic research and teaching.
What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a PhD in Mathematics and Statistics?
Be open-minded, but aware: before starting, find out as much as possible what the work and interaction within any specific research field is like. Embarking on a PhD, it is important to know where that may lead, both in direction through areas of research and into one’s longer-term future. At the beginning, it is more important to be able to establish a good working relationship with one’s supervisor than to understand the proposal, since that relationship is what will see one through difficulties, should any arise.