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Royal Society of Edinburgh research awards

A group of St Andrews researchers will be able to develop their ideas in Scotland after receiving grants from The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

Over 40 new awards for researchers throughout Scotland are being announced today at the annual RSE Research Awards Ceremony.

RSE President, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood said, “The RSE’s Research Awards support some of the most outstanding young scientists and innovators working in Scotland today. The benefits of their research are far- reaching, with work in areas such as healthcare, the environment and our ageing population, advancing the social and economic well-being of Scotland. It is only through valuable partnerships with key bodies such as BP, the Caledonian Research Foundation, the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland, PPARC, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Executive and the Wellcome Trust that we are able to provide these awards. To each of these partners, we offer our sincere thanks. The Research Awardees for 2004 have attained a standard of excellence, which does them much credit and I wish them every success”.

The St Andrews recipients are –


Ms Nicola Armstrong. Solar Coronal Heating – Nanoflares School of Maths and Statistics, University of St Andrews

One of the major problems in Solar physics over the last 60 years has been the heating of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, which is some 200 times hotter than the surface of the Sun. One of the most likely types of small- scale phenomena to be heating the corona are nanoflares, transient events with energies of about 1023 ergs. Their distribution with respect to energy is believed to be a power law and it can be shown that if the power-law index is less than -2 then the smallest nanoflares dominate the heating. Current published estimates of the index range from -2.7 to -1.2. The aim of this project is to apply different detection routines to the same data set, to establish if current differences in estimates can be attributed to different detection techniques and come up with a better estimate of the errors involved in calculating nanoflare power-law indices.

Ms Isla Simpson. Accretion onto stellar magnetospheres: Feeding Young Suns Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews

T Tauri stars are very young stars that are less than a million years old and have a mass similar to or less than the Sun. They are surrounded by a warm disc of gas and dust within which planets may form, so investigations on these stars are very important in aiding the understanding of processes that occur during the formation of solar systems like our own. It is believed that material falls onto the star from the disc via a process known as accretion. This accretion process has been studied for many years and it has become increasingly apparent that the stellar magnetic field plays an important role. The aim of this project was to investigate the way in which the stars magnetic field channels the flow of material from the disc onto the star and to see if these flows could be responsible for creating hot spots that are observed on the surface of T Tauri stars. This project showed that gas can leave the circumstellar disk travelling slowly but then accelerates as it falls towards the star, crashing onto the surface at speeds of over 200 kms-1, which is sufficiently fast to create the observed hot spots. Work is continuing to investigate the accretion processes that go on in these stars and how they affect the disc and the star. This is hoped to give a greater insight into the formation of young solar systems like our own.



Ms Ruth Carr. Determination of the Origin of Coronal Loop Oscillations School of Maths and Statistics, University of St Andrews

The Sun provides us with a unique opportunity to study a star in close detail and hence form a basis for our understanding of other stars. The solar atmosphere consists of three different layers; the photosphere, chromosphere and the corona (respectively moving outwards). From 4300K at the top of the photosphere, counter to one’s intuition, the temperature starts to rise again, until reaching several million degrees Kelvin in the corona. This coronal heating problem has proved to be a major challenge for solar physicists and remains yet to be fully answered. High-quality, space-based observations by e.g. SOHO and TRACE recently revealed the presence of oscillations in many solar structures. This detection is crucial in order to determine the presence and relevance of waved-based coronal heating mechanisms. Additionally, such observations may be used to improve existing estimates of coronal properties, from methods such as ‘coronal seismology’. The idea is that oscillations carry physical information about the structure and the properties of the medium in which they occur. If we can analyse and model observed oscillations, then we can aim to deduce properties of the coronal structures in which they occur. However, before these oscillations can contribute to coronal seismology, several questions needs to be answered. The positions of the footpoints of the oscillating coronal loops will be examined, as well as the inclination of the magnetic field lines.

Mr Mark Douglas. The Magnetic Structure of the Solar Corona School of Maths and Statistics, University of St Andrews

Mr Matthew Lee. Shell Properties of Detached Shell Stars School of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews

Mr Stuart Lynn. Irradiation of Accretion Disks near Black Holes Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh

Radiation from several parts of the electromagnetic spectrum including visible light can be observed from the centre of a number of galaxies. It is widely believed that many of these galaxies are centered around black holes up to 8 billion times the size of our sun which devour matter from their host galaxies. As material comes close to the supper massive black hole it gets torn apart by the tremendous gravitational forces and forms an accretion disk that spirals in to the hole. This disk, its material increasingly moving faster as it spirals in, becomes superheated and produces ultraviolet and x-ray radiation where as visual light is believed to be generated from parts of the disk that are further out and therefor cooler. The difficulty with this model is that it predicts far to little visible radiation compared to what is observed. This project is looking at the possibility that the emitted x-ray and ultraviolet radiation from the inner disk is being deflected by the gravity of the black hole itself and in some cases landing on the visual emission region of the disk. The disk would then absorb the radiation and reemit it as visual light accounting for the discrepancy. This will be done by computationally tracing the paths of photons around initially stationary and then possibly rotating black holes.

Ms Rowan Smith. The Effects of Supernovae on the Interstellar Medium: Linking Theory and Observations Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews

This project uses a computer program to simulate the effects of stars exploding in our galaxy. These explosions are called Super Novae. The force generated from such an explosion pushes the gas and dust which exists in space outwards creating huge bubbles”. An existing computer program will be modified to represent this situation. Several possibilities will be tried out by changing the position of the explosion, how much dust there is and what shape the dust is in. Results can then be compared with real observations to see how similar they are and hopefully some insights into Super Novae will be gained.




Dr Alan Feighery. SOFCRoll Fuel Cell University of St Andrews

The global market size for fuel cells and hydrogen technology is estimated to be $20 billion by 2011. In order to achieve significant penetration into this massive marketplace, ambitious performance and cost targets must be achieved. This project aims to commercialise our patented ‘SOFCRoll’ fuel cell design, which enables the use of cheap, easily scaleable manufacturing and can compete with other fuel cell designs being developed globally. Fuel cells can potentially be used to generate power in applications ranging from handheld electronic devices to buildings, resulting in decreased reliance on fossil fuels, decreased CO2 emissions and improved power quality. The SOFCRoll fuel cell is a multi- layer ceramic device which operates at high temperatures. Oxygen and a fuel gas (e.g. hydrogen) are supplied to the fuel cell, which electrochemically combines the two gases, producing electricity and heat more efficiently than by conventional energy production methods.



Professor Peter Bruce FRSE. School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews

Awarded quadrennially in recognition of original work by a scientist resident in or connected with Scotland. The Prize Lectureship is awarded in the field of chemistry on this occasion and goes to Professor Bruce in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the public understanding of science in his lithium battery work.

For Media Information, please contact Stuart Brown, Public Relations Officer, The Royal Society of Edinburgh, tel. 0131 240 5000; mob. 077 11 710 249; fax: 0131 240 5024, e-mail:


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