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Award details

Understanding nonlinear wave-particle interactions in Earth’s radiation belts to improve space weather modelling. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Mathematics Ref: 4253

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Oliver Allanson, University of Exeter, Mathematics, Environmental Maths & CGAFD.

Additional Supervisors

Dr Nigel Meredith, British Antarctic Survey, Space Weather & Atmosphere Team

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Penry Cornwall .

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,609 p.a. for 2022/23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses

Project details

Earths dynamic Radiation Belts NASA

he SolarTerrestrial interaction

Project Background:

The Earth's Outer Radiation Belt is a region of near-Earth space containing high-energy charged particles that are trapped by the geomagnetic field. Whilst we know that the radiation belt environment is ultimately driven by the solar wind, it is very challenging to model these particle populations.

The myriad socio-economic risks posed by space weather effects are reflected through its inclusion in the UK Cabinet Office National Risk Register for Civil Emergencies. Accurate modelling and prediction is essential for safeguarding the operational satellites in orbit that underpin modern society - placing a growing reliance on forecasts such as those based on the world-leading model developed at the British Antarctic Survey. This model is now being incorporated into the UK MET Office Space Weather Forecasting Suite - one of 3 space weather prediction centres worldwide. • Existing radiation belt modelling and forecasting capabilities rely upon techniques that treat electromagnetic waves determining the electron dynamics as having very small amplitudes. However, recent satellite datasets have demonstrated the prevalence of large amplitude (aka ‘nonlinear’) electromagnetic waves. Understanding the impact of nonlinear waves on space weather modelling is one of the biggest international challenges in radiation belt science today. 

Project Aims and Methods:

In this PhD you will work towards making internationally significant discoveries about the importance of nonlinear waves in radiation belt and space weather modelling – to ultimately improve forecasting. Once you become comfortable with the underlying science and general direction, you will be invited to help guide the project towards a particular aspect that most interests you. This could be using one or more of theoretical, numerical or observational approaches – depending on your inclinations and the questions that we identify together.

You will have the opportunity to lead on a project that will make an important contribution to an internationally significant scientific problem with real-world application.  You will work and collaborate within a strong UK-based network of world-leading experts in Space Weather and Space-science. The ultimate aim of this PhD is to support you to become an independent researcher, and a valued colleague in whatever future role you choose.  

Candidate Requirements:

A background in physics, applied mathematics or closely-related mathematics/physics science. Prior knowledge of space/plasma physics or computer programming are not necessary. 

Project Partners:

Dr Oliver Allanson (OA) is leading a NERC research programme (2021-‘26) to understand the importance of nonlinear physics in radiation belt modelling. Dr Nigel Meredith (NM) is a world-leading authority on the analysis of particle and electromagnetic wave data from spacecraft. We have collaborations and partnerships with scientists at numerous universities and research institutes around the world, and will be delighted to invite the candidate into these networks and discussions.


In addition to regular one-to-one meetings with supervisors, you will be encouraged to participate in wider group- and network- activities to build up your academic profile and collaborate with colleagues. You can attend seminars from national and international experts in the field, and benefit from national and international conferences and summer schools that develop both discipline-specific and transferable skills (e.g. AGU Fall meeting and International School/Symposium for Space Simulations) • The GW4+ DTP provides many further training and skills development opportunities,

Background reading and references

• Cannon, RAE Report on Extreme Space Weather (2013) • Li & Hudson, JGR Space Physics, 124 (2019) • Allanson et al, JGR Space Physics, 126 (2021) • Meredith et al, Geophysical Research Letters, 48 (2021) 

Useful Links:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via email:, and see homepage:

Prospective applicants: For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via  

Each project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. 

Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.  


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2022 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.



Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Friday 10 January 2022. Interviews will be held between 28 February and 4 March 2022.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:10th January 2022
Value:£15,609 per annum for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries