Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

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Applied Sciences special issue: Dynamical processes in space plasmas


Applied Sciences is to publish a special issue on the topic of dynamical processes in space plasmas which is being guest edited by Georgious Nicolaou. Submissions are welcome until 31 March 2021, and submission instructions for authors can be found on the journal website. For general questions, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A Summary of the SWIMMR Kick-Off Meeting

The kick-off event for the Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Study (one of the Wave 2 programmes of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund) took place in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday November 26th. Seventy-five people attended the event, representing a range of academic institutions, as well as representatives from industry, government and public sector research establishments such as the UK Met Office. 

The morning session of the meeting consisted of five presentations, introducing the programme and its relevance to government, the Research Councils and the Met Office, as well as describing details of the potential calls. The presentations were as follows:

  •  Prof John Loughhead (Chief Scientific Advisor to BEIS) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Programme (a governmental perspective). The slides from Prof John Loughhead's talk are available here.
  • Prof Chris Mutlow (Director of STFC RAL Space) - SWIMMR: Project funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund (a perspective from STFC).  The slides from Prof Chris Mutlow's talk are available here.
  • Jacky Wood (Head of Business Partnerships at NERC) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) - A NERC perspective.  The slides from Jacky Wood's talk are available here.
  • Dr. Ian McCrea (Senior Programme Manager for SWIMMR) -  SWIMMR: Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk: A wave 2 programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.  The slides from Dr Ian McCrea's talk are available here.
  • Mark Gibbs (Head of Space Weather at the UK Met Office) - SWIMMR (Met Office perspective and detailed description of the calls.  The slides from Mark Gibb's talk are available here.

During the lunch break, the Announcement of Opportunity for the five NERC SWIMMR calls was issued on the NERC web site.  The afternoon therefore began with a brief introduction by Jacky Wood to the NERC Announcement of Opportunity, and the particular terms and conditions which it contained.

The remainder of the afternoon session was spent in a Question and Answer session in which attendees were able to ask questions to the speakers about the nature of the programme and the potential timing of future calls, and finally to an informal discussion session, in which participants gathered into groups to discuss the opportunities for funding which had been outlined. 

2019 RAS Council elections

As you may have seen, the nominations for RAS Council are currently open with a deadline of 29 November. MIST falls under the “G” (Geophysics) category and there are up to 3 councillor positions and one vice-president position available. MIST Council strongly encourages interested members of the MIST community to consider standing for election.
Clare Watt (University of Reading) has kindly volunteered to be a point of contact for the community for those who may wish to talk more about being on council and what it involves. Clare is a councillor on RAS Council, with her term due to complete in 2020, and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Outcome of SSAP priority project review

From the MIST mailing list:

We are writing to convey the outcome of this year’s priority project “light touch” review, specifically with reference to those projects within the remit of SSAP. We would like to thank all the PIs that originally submitted ideas, and those who provided updates to their projects over the summer. SSAP strongly believe that all the projects submitted are underpinned by strong scientific drivers in the SSAP area.

The “light touch” review was undertaken with a unified approach by SSAP and AAP, considering factors that have led to priority project development (in STFC or other research councils) or new funding for priority projects (1/51 projects in the STFC remit) in the last 12 months. After careful discussion, it was agreed by SSAP and AAP not to select any project where the remit clearly overlaps with UKSA (i.e. space missions or TRL 4+), reflecting STFC’s focus on ground-based observations, science exploitation and TRL 0-3 development. Whilst in no way reflecting the excellence of the science, or community scientific wishes, this approach has resulted in some changes to the list of SSAP priority projects. However, now, unlike at the time of the original call, it is clear that such projects cannot move forwards without UKSA (financial) support, and such funds are already committed according to UKSA’s existing programme. SSAP remain strongly supportive of mission-led science in solar-system exploration, so SSAP have strongly recommended that the high-level discussions between UKSA and STFC continue with a view to supporting a clear joint priority projects call in future, more naturally suited to mission and bi-lateral opportunities.

The priority projects (and PIs) identified by SSAP for 2019/20 are:

  • Solar Atmospheric Modelling Suite (Tony Arber)
  • LARES1: Laboratory Analysis for Research into Extra-terrestrial Samples (Monica Grady)
  • EST: European Solar Telescope (Sarah Matthews)

SSAP requested STFC continue to work with all three projects to expand their community reach and continue to develop the business cases for future (new) funding opportunities. In addition, SSAP have requested that STFC explore ways in which the concept of two projects—“ViCE: Virtual Centres of Excellence Programme / MSEMM Maximising Science Exploitation from Space Science Missions”—can be combined and, with community involvement, generate new funding for science exploitation and maximising scientific return in solar-system sciences. Initially this consultation will occur between SSAP and STFC.

We would like to thank the community again for its strong support, and rapid responses on very short timescales. A further “light touch” review will occur in 2020, with a new call for projects anticipated in 2021. SSAP continue to appreciate the unfamiliar approach a “call for proposals with no funding attached” causes to the community and are continuing to stress to STFC that the community would appreciate clearer guidance and longer timescales in future priority project calls.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Helen Fraser on behalf of SSAP

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS)

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS) is an STFC Network+ with the goal of helping researchers within the Particle, Nuclear and Astrophysics areas to engage with researchers from other research councils and industry to study the near Earth space environment. For more details, visit the GNOSIS website or see this issue of the GNOSIS newsletter.

Over the next few years we expect a large increase in the number of satellites in Earth orbit. This will lead to unprecedented levels of space traffic much of which will end as debris. The aim of this network is to understand the debris populations and its impact on space traffic management with a view to enabling a safer environment.

The free GNOSIS lunch event will be held on 18 November 2019 at the British Interplanetary Society at Vauxhall, London, with a video link to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, to facilitate participation from across the UK. Tickets can be obtained here.

GNOSIS will be producing a programme of meetings for both space operations specialists and subject matter novices and will be able to support the development of collaborative ideas through project and part graduate student funding. Details of our first workshop will be announced in the next month.

If you are an academic with no direct experience but have knowledge of areas such as observations, data analysis, simulation or even law, then register your interest on our website. If you are a currently working in the space sector or if you are just interested in the aims and goals of the network please also register your interest and get involved.

Industrial Placements and Snowflake Software

by David Price

At the time of my PhD application the placement in industry that was tagged on to the process sounded like a good idea, I thought to myself that it would provide the opportunity to see what other career options my Master’s degree offered me and hopefully illuminate which of the two paths, academia or industry, would better suit me at the end of my studies. However when the time came to start looking around and applying for opportunities, late in my 2nd year, I was angry at my past self: ‘why couldn’t you have just chosen a normal PhD so you wouldn’t have to worry about all this?’

Now that the prospect was actually upon me, and not just a seemingly good idea for my CV a few years ago, the foray into the world of industry conjured imagery of an Office Space–esque hellscape of grey cubicles, excessive bureaucracy and miserable excel zombies. However, my experience at Snowflake Software, at which I spent the second half of last year, turned out to be a far cry from this “potentially inaccurate” mental image and as a result I have entirely new perspective on life outside of academia. I was introduced to Snowflake via the GRADnet Employer Engagement scheme, ran by the South East Physics Network (SEPnet), who host regular training events and distribute placement and graduate opportunities to participants. If you are a member of one of the participating Universities and are interested in also doing some kind of placement I would recommend checking their website out (I’m also sure there will be similar resources for students at non-participating universities, just ask!). Unfortunately for readers of this post I am unable to go into extensive details of the work I was doing at Snowflake (for intellectual property reasons), so instead I will focus mostly on my thoughts and reactions to the experiences I had whilst working there.

Day to Day

Snowflake Software is a small software company, conveniently located in the centre of Southampton, that specialises in the aggregation and redistribution of flight, weather and aeronautical data from a variety of sources. During my placement I was attached as a Data Scientist to the IATA (International Air Transport Association) Turbulence Aware project. Snowflake had landed a competitive deal to build, host and manage IATA’s cloud-based turbulence data platform which now receives live in-situ turbulence data from thousands of flights all over the world. On my first day I was given access to millions of individual data points, each containing a measured value of turbulence, location, time, and many other meteorological variables over a timespan of approximately one year. The brief was simple: ‘see what you can find out about this dataset’ (paraphrased), and so began 5 months of me exercising a mild obsession with maps by plotting and producing just about any kind of interesting analysis I could come up with. This open ended kind of approach to the placement was both familiar and enjoyable and I was given free rein to choose what software and coding language I wanted to use to approach this interesting dataset.

Joining the Snowflake Software team!

As a result the actual work was similar in many ways to some of my work during the PhD, the vast majority of my time was spent writing python code, and I would liken it specifically to the final stages of analysis on any data set you could have acquired during your research. However, the day to day experience was different in many ways to that I have experienced in academia. I would obviously put most of the differences down to the simple fact that Snowflake was delivering a product for a paying client, and as such they did not have the flexibility and freedom on timescales that we sometimes are party to during our PhD. Snowflake practices a development methodology known as ‘Agile’ which utilises an iterative development process, with a focus on collaboration with the client on a regular basis. Starting from day one I was folded into this system, but since I was not a software developer I was sort of operating on the fringes of this methodology - in short I contributed to the agile development process in two ways:

  1. Participation in the daily ‘stand up’ sessions with the team. A stand up essentially consists of each member of the team giving an update on the tasks they have accomplished since the last meeting, what they hope to accomplish before the next and how they are feeling on that day. Whilst for the others it was useful for keeping track of who is developing what aspect of the software at any time, for me it usually consisted of: “spent most of my time wrestling with matplotlib yesterday, I imagine I will also be doing that for the most of today” an ‘experience’ most PhD students are already intensely familiar with.
  2. Participation in the bi-weekly ‘sprint review’ sessions with the client. These sessions were a much more formal affair, in which the team hosted a conference call with the IATA turbulence aware group. These meetings consisted of a 20-30 minute presentation in which any new software features were demonstrated by a member of the team and appropriate feedback was given and questions asked. After this it was my turn to take over the presentation and talk the IATA team through the analysis I had done during that period and take suggestions for further research directions. 

The idea behind both of these processes is to consistently receive feedback and guidance, which in turn helps to steer your day to day work in the direction the client desires. This meant that I spent very little time wandering what I should be doing as I always had one or two fresh suggestions of things to look into from the IATA team. Of particular note were the inputs from the enthusiastic subject matter expert, ex-pilot Bret King. Bret provided an unending supply of anecdotes from his extensive career as well as incredibly useful insight into the kind of turbulence data and information actual pilots really wanted and could use effectively.

Overall I think the Agile system has both pros and cons. Initially I was frustrated by the extremely regular meetings at the start of the day (particularly when I didn’t accomplish much in the 24 hours period) but when you are working towards a client’s expectations I do think it is useful to be made very aware of the current state of progress. One of the things I found most difficult about Agile was having to assign a point like system to your tasks wherein you make a prediction on how long something is going to take you. I know I have a particularly bad habit of telling my PhD supervisor that something will be ‘easy enough’ and that ‘I’ll have it ready by next week’ only for this prediction to fall completely flat. I think the Agile system is also susceptible to this error in judgement and often in the less flexible environment of industry I saw it leading to mad rushes before a deadline to deliver all that was promised. 

Extra-curricular activities

My time at Snowflake didn’t just consist of coding and meetings with the clients, in fact there was a lot of what I have called extra-curricular activities on top of all the rest. I would be remiss if I didn’t mentioned the many games of ping pong I played at lunch, the end of the day, and pretty much at any time I could convince another office member to take five minutes off. In fact a personal favourite outcome from my placement is the development of my forehand smash, it’s absolutely lethal. On top of this, those who know me will know just how sickeningly competitive I am which meant that obviously I kept an extensive spreadsheet of my win loss ratio against everyone in the office, the result of which you can see below. The ‘BIG 3’ marker is a combination of the companies’ best players (pretty much the leadership team), whom I failed to take a single game off, much to my intense dissatisfaction. You’ll also note I purposely left out the total number of games played…

The infamous ping pong spreadsheet.

On another more serious note, the true highlight of my placement was the incredible opportunity to travel to Chicago and present the work I had been doing. Approximately three weeks into my placement I was given a chance to attend the IATA Turbulence Aware forum. The forum was a conference like congregation in which representatives from airlines all over the world gathered to discuss the applications of the new turbulence dataset IATA was in the process of making available to them. My presentation was to be the last of the two day itinerary – a 45 minute slot in front of a panel of meteorologists from the likes of Delta, United and Southwest airlines – to discuss how data science can help direct the most efficient use of this data to the airlines. This was an incredibly useful, albeit mildly terrifying, experience for me. The differences between an industrial conference setting and those in academia are not very large, in fact it was much of the same; small talk over lunch, hurried technical conversations between talks and a few pints in the pub afterwards. One noticeable difference, for me at least, was that I was given an optimistically large stack of business cards to disseminate between attendees, and in return I ended up with a surprisingly colourful stack of others for myself. Finally, out of fear of this becoming a travel blog, I will not say too much about the time I got to spend exploring the city of Chicago. I will simply say that it is a cool city and I would highly recommend a drink or two along the canal/riverwalk if you ever get the chance!

Final Note

All in all I would definitely say I had a positive experience on my industrial placement working with Snowflake Software. It turned out to be an extremely eye opening and instructive five months - a lot of the skills I have developed during the course of my degree and PhD proved not only to be useful but also extremely valuable and interesting to a variety of companies. On top of that I was introduced to new experiences and opportunities to develop skills working within a larger team and operating in a more formal manner. I would recommend!

To find out more about Snowflake Software then check out their website here: https://snowflakesoftware.com

If you would like to find out more about David’s experience with an industrial placement then you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..