Mathematicians win 3.4m to study sun

Friday 9 February 2007

Mathematicians at the University of St Andrews have won a share of 3.4 million euros to break new ground in the study of the Sun’s magnetic fields.

The researchers at the University’s School of Mathematics & Statistics have signed a contract with the European Commission to establish a Europe- wide network called SOLAIRE. The network links together twelve different groups in universities across Europe.

The funding will allow each institution to fund a PhD student and a postdoctoral researcher to study the magnetic fields that surround and emanate from the sun. Professor Eric Priest, leader of the St Andrews team, said, “This will be a major boost to researchers across Europe investigating the Sun, which is currently one of the most exciting branches of astronomy”.

The twelve groups are located in St Andrews, Glasgow, Tenerife, Paris, Copenhagen, Sicily, Oslo, Budapest, Holland, Belgium and two in Germany. Essential to the project will be the exchange of information and personnel between groups.

“The key feature of the network is that it will encourage much more mobility and collaboration between different European research teams,” said Ineke De Moortel, a new lecturer at St Andrews who is to direct the training aspects of the network. “Each student and postdoc will be jointly supervised by two teams and there will be substantial travel funds to support research visits and a series of workshops and meetings.”

The grant was awarded in the midst of an increase in interest in the study of the Sun, which is being stimulated by the recent launch of a suite of new space satellites and major advances in theoretical understanding. Professor Alan Hood, who coordinates the theory aspects of the network, said, “This new revolution in understanding is being driven by new supercomputers such as the one we have in St Andrews, together with clever models for the subtle ways that magnetic fields in the Sun produce dynamic phenomena.”

Five main research projects will be the focus of the teams’ efforts. The first will examine the way magnetic fields are generated within the Sun and emerge through its surface to produce sunspots. The next two deal with models for the complex topology of magnetic fields in the solar atmosphere. The fourth will model the way particles are accelerated to high energies in solar flares, and the final one will study huge eruptions from the Sun and how they interact with the Earth.




PROFESSOR ERIC PRIEST: 01334 463709, email [email protected]

DR INEKE DE MOORTEL: 01334 463757, email [email protected]

PROFESSOR ALAN HOOD: 01334 463710, email [email protected]



CAPTION: Eric Priest (leader of the solar group in St Andrews) witnessing the EU contract with co- researchers Alan Hood and Ineke De Moortel.

Issued by Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, 01334 467227 / 462529 / [email protected]

Ref: SOLAIRE 060207

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