Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

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.

SWIMMR: A £19.9M programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) is a £19.9M programme of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund.

MIST would like draw the attention of the research community to the potential opportunities which will become available as a result of this programme, which received final approval from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in August. The programme will run from now until March 2023 and is aimed at improving the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction. UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund provides a means for linking research council investment to governmental research priorities, hence the areas being emphasised in the programme reflect space weather threats to critical infrastructure, as reflected in the UK national risk register.

The programme will be delivered jointly by the STFC and NERC, mainly through open grant calls, but including some elements of commissioned work to be delivered through open competitive tenders. The first calls are expected to appear during the coming weeks. More information about the programme is available through the RAL Space website, and is forthcoming from the NERC web site.

To mark the official launch of the programme and provide more details of the planned activities, a kick-off meeting is being held in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday 26 November 2019, from 10:30. Pre-registration is required for this event and can be done using this link. We hope that many of you will be able to attend.

Shutdown STEM and Academia: Educating PGRs on Black Lives Matter

By Harneet Sangha1, Rosanna Tilbrook1, Manika Sidhu1, Aneesah Kamran1 & Emily Baldwin1

1University of Leicester


The Shutdown STEM and Academia initiative was a world-wide event held on 10 June 2020 that was created to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It was organised as a way to stop academic “business as usual” for one day; a day where our Black colleagues can prioritise their needs, and look after themselves amidst this emotional time, and a chance for everyone else to educate themselves, and others, about why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important.

Black people have been working tirelessly - their whole lives - for change, and everyone else has a responsibility to do their part to help eradicate anti-Black racism.

The key aims of the day were to:

  1. share and present resources on BLM and racism in our society/workplaces
  2. define a plan of action to carry forward and start to eradicate anti-Black racism in STEM and academia
  3. inspire others to actively and continually engage in the fight against racism, and initiate similar discussions in their respective social environments

In this article we talk about how we used this initiative to educate ourselves on Black racism in our society and within the science community, and how we will combat these issues moving forward.

What did we do?

To honour the initiative, a group of us (5 Physics postgraduate research (PGR) students) from the University of Leicester, hosted an educational workshop day for the Physics PGR cohort. We are passionate about this cause and endeavoured to be proactive in raising awareness of the movement, educating ourselves and our fellow PGR students and avoiding the use of passive methods to present this information to our peers.

We decided we wanted to initiate a discussion where we could collectively consider what the University of Leicester’s School of Physics and Astronomy could do to help the cause. To facilitate this, we decided that a presentation would be the most effective way of sharing some of the shocking facts and statistics that had surfaced in light of the movement. The presentation was a compilation of information that we had gathered on BLM, racism in our society, and actions we can take in order to strive to create a world where Black Lives Matter. 

A large portion of our presentation focused on issues within academia and STEM and why there is a lack of diversity present. Did you know that there were only four UK-based Black students doing a PhD across RAS-related fields in 20161? In stark contrast, for the same year, there were 221 UK-based White students doing a PhD across RAS-related fields1. Did you know that to date, in the US, only 22 Black women have been awarded a PhD in Astronomy2? However, this issue doesn’t just stop with the number of students in academia. In the UK, 94% of professors in Physics, Chemistry and Maths are White, whereas 0.2% of professors are Black, despite making up 3.3% of the UK population3. These are just a handful of the facts that we showed, to demonstrate just how underrepresented the Black community is within Physics and Astronomy. These statistics are shocking, and yet the vast majority of people are not aware of them.

As well as being underrepresented, Black scientists also experience greater amounts of harassment and discrimination in the field. BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff have reported “isolation and marginalisation; challenges to their status, authority and scholarship; high levels of scrutiny and surveillance of their work; and difficulties gaining promotion” 4

In addition to providing information on systemic racism and the inequality of Black people throughout academia and beyond, the presentation also included a number of topics which initiated and fed into the discussion, such as staff representation, training, and amplifying Black voices through talks and journal clubs. This was facilitated and chaired by ourselves and resulted in 2.5 hours of engaging dialogue with many people coming forward and getting involved. We were thrilled with the number of participants who engaged enthusiastically with the conversation. It helped that there were a number of ways for people to join in with this; questions could be asked anonymously, directly into the chat, or they could be voiced openly. A few key members of staff were also invited to this discussion – our Head of School, our School’s PGR Tutor and the PGR Director for the College of Science and Engineering – which was useful as questions and ideas could be directed or discussed immediately with them.

We knew there was only so much that the 5 of us (non-Black students) could say, and that there was only so much material we could gather in the 3 days prior to this BLM Educational Workshop. Therefore, we decided to source some pre-existing material which would be able to provide context and history to the Black Lives Matter movement. We chose to show two films: a short documentary before the presentation called ‘Stay woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement5, and a film after the discussion called ‘13th6.We thought this would be another way to reinforce the message we wanted to convey, and the reasons why BLM and the responsibilities we have to end racism are so important.

Due to the nature of the movement and the weight of the topic at hand, we could not and did not want to avoid the distressing reality of Black history and lived experience. We knew that the films we showed were graphic and sometimes violent, yet we hoped that by keeping these atrocities uncensored the viewers would respond more powerfully to the matter at hand. Many of us were unaware of the true extent of the issue, and we therefore felt it important not to minimise this by omitting the most difficult stories. Of course, we alerted participants to the upsetting nature of the films beforehand. 

Running the event virtually

Once we had decided what we wanted to do on the day, we had to decide how we were going to do it.

Since the start of the lockdown, the UoL Physics PGR cohort has been using Discord to keep in contact and host socials, and so this was our preferred social media platform to stream the documentaries on.

In order for us all to contribute to the creation of the presentation easily, we created a Google Slides document where we could all work on our own parts at the same time. We then decided that the best way to host the presentation and discussion would be to use Microsoft Teams; it has a number of discussion features, allowing participants the option of “raising their hand” as well as a chat function. The use of Google Slides when presenting allowed us to set up an area where questions, comments or discussion points could be brought up anonymously. We thought this was a great feature as this is a delicate topic and we understand that not everyone will feel comfortable with asking questions openly.

To enable a seamless event, the five of us practiced streaming the presentation on Microsoft Teams, the day before. By doing this, we could fix any glitches that there may have been in the slides themselves. We also discussed what slides everyone would take, and created a Google doc where we each wrote a word-for-word script for our individual parts. This meant that if any one of us had technical difficulties on the day, then one of the other presenters could take over without any issues and would know what to say. It also meant that our slide presenter knew when the slides needed to be changed.

The whole event ran smoothly, ensuring we got the most out of our discussion time. At its busiest, we had ~35 people in attendance, mainly PGR students, but also including the Head of Physics and Astronomy Emma Bunce, our Physics PGR Tutor Tom Stallard, and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) PGR Tutor Mark Williams. These staff members were also present for the discussion portion of the day, and were all eager to help make changes at a School and College-level. 

Our action points

The discussion allowed us to identify several action points for our research groups and department:

  • Reporting racial incidents within the institution

BAME members of the department may not feel comfortable reporting their issues as they may feel alienated as a minority. If this can be anonymised, this may help BAME students/members to feel safer and more reassured when reporting. One thing that we discussed was regular anonymised surveys to all the PGRs. This would resolve issues of incidents that “don’t feel major enough” to report and escalate to higher members. We also discussed creating an environment where it is not solely the responsibility of the target of racial incidents to report the issue, but other people present should also be encouraged to report any incidents they witness.

  • Including more Black history in physics education

By focusing on the scientific achievements of Black physicists, we are normalising the discussion of “we need more Black members in the STEM fields”. Innovation and creative thinking prospers when people from different backgrounds and communities come together and discuss their ideas. Diversifying the field facilitates scientific progress. We need to ensure that we focus on the science that Black members of the community are doing, as opposed to tokenising their ethnicity.

  • Outreach

Outreach is always a great way to reach out to the community, and is especially important for encouraging the younger generation to pursue science and physics. One issue that was raised is how overrepresented groups can assist with outreach to underrepresented groups. Young students like to envision themselves in a role; providing them with someone to relate to can help with confidence issues. How can we ensure that they are not only seeing White physicists, potentially making them feel unwelcome in the sector? This is an ongoing discussion, and we have to be very careful with what we do for this aspect. We do not want to tokenise our Black members and force minorities to participate in outreach if they can’t or don’t want to.

A key point to consider is assessing the diversity of who our outreach activities engage with. We have to ensure that underrepresented groups are being engaged with in the first place. Then designing outreach activities to target the unique and key issues faced by those demographics would help too. For example, higher attrition rates of Black students is thought to be due to socio-economic disadvantages7, as well as career perceptions of Physics8.

  • Learning about racism

One of the key themes in our discussion was that it is not the responsibility of marginalised people to educate others on racism. These groups already face additional challenges and we should not be adding further pressure. If they were compensated for their time this could help, but it is a point that has to be thought about very carefully.

  • Hiring processes

We discussed studies which show that the initial stages of the job application process can often be the most discriminatory, with prejudices casting negative judgements solely on the name of the applicant. Anonymising the applications could help to minimise this issue.

  • Understanding why Black undergraduate students are leaving the field

Black students are more likely to switch out of Physics. If we can understand why they are leaving, we could work towards creating an environment where they feel welcome and want to stay. Maybe a community-wide study on the experiences of Black undergraduate and PhD students would give us a better insight into this. Role models could have a big impact on this – currently the most senior figures in Physics are mainly older White males. 

The day was a success, and we had a lot of positive and encouraging feedback. Thanks to our Head of School, we will be presenting this talk to the Physics Staff in the coming weeks, and our CSE PGR Tutor has also sent the presentation around to the other Schools within the College. This is all in an effort to encourage the initiation of these discussions within the other Schools.

We highly encourage all other universities to take this seriously, and to start having these discussions. This issue doesn’t just affect a handful of universities; we all need to start coming up with ways to combat these injustices. These are not conversations that should be shied away from. Changes need to be made.

“You have to shock people into paying attention.”

Vann Jones, 13th

While everything that has occurred recently in the world has focused our thoughts on racism and diversity, there shouldn’t need to be a tragedy for us to realise that Black Lives Matter. As well as recognising the issues that exist, we need to actively and continually engage in combating anti-Black racism. Even after the social media hype dies down, we need to continue to fight. Tackling racism is a marathon, not a sprint.

We hope that this article has given you some ideas and action points for you to make in your own institution. Please consider hosting activities like these within your own research groups. If you would like to discuss anything further with us, you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Black Lives Matter, and together we can start the journey towards eliminating anti-Black racism. 

What can you do?

  • Do some research

There are so many resources out there (a few are below), use what is available to educate yourself. It is not the responsibility of your Black friends or colleagues to teach you.

We would also encourage that everyone who can to read the stories of discrimination in academia that Black scientists are sharing on the ‘Black in the Ivory’ hashtag on Twitter. One of the most distressing parts of this hashtag is that these are not even the worst stories – these are only the ones that people feel safe and comfortable sharing. This is extremely important to consider.

  • Speak Up!

Take part in discussions within your University and show that YOU care. If there aren’t any discussions going on, ask those in charge: why not? And, like us, why not organise them yourself? We’re happy to help you get started.

  • Take accountability for your actions

Learning and apologising does not make you a worse ally!

  • Stand when you witness racist behaviour

Use the links below to help with these conversations.

  • Support your words with actions

Join protests, sign petitions, contact your MPs and donate if you can.




1 https://ras.ac.uk/ras-policy/community-demographics/demographic-survey-2017

2 http://aawip.com/aawip-members/

3 http://www.sciencecampaign.org.uk/asset/7E74D16B-9412-4FA7-9CD361C8371DBD02/

4 https://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/external/experience-of-bme-staff-in-he.pdf

5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIoYtKOqxeU

6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6IXQbXPO3I

7 https://www.iop.org/publications/iop/archive/file_38241.pdf

8 https://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2008/file_38221.pdf