Spotlight shines on solar physicist

Tuesday 6 November 2007

A researcher at the University of St Andrews has been awarded a top UK prize for her world-leading contributions to the field of Solar Physics.

Clare Parnell and some coronal loops (Eric Priest)

Dr Clare Parnell, a lecturer in Applied Mathematics, has won a prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize – one of 26 throughout the UK announced yesterday (Monday 5 November 2007).

The £70,000 award has been made in recognition of Dr Parnell’s research efforts over the past 16 years, during which she has made a number of important discoveries.

Philip Leverhulme prizes are awarded to outstanding scholars who have made a substantial international contribution to their particular field and whose future shows great promise.  One of Dr Parnell’s most important findings at St Andrews, where she is a member of the Solar and Magnetospheric Theory Group, was to find an explanation for how the outer atmosphere of the Sun is heated to some 200 times the temperature of the Sun’s surface.

Professor Alan Cairns, head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, said, “We are delighted that Clare has been awarded such a highly prestigious prize. It is excellent that all her efforts have been recognised in this way by the Leverhulme Trust.”

Dr Parnell has conducted ground-breaking research into both solar physics and plasma physics and is keen to spend the prize money on furthering her research in both areas. She said, “There are still many major questions that I would like to answer. The structure of the magnetic field that dominates the atmosphere of the Sun is extremely complex and continually evolving.

“Understanding the key structures that make up the Sun’s magnetic field and how they can transform from one structure to another is essential to answering a whole raft of key problems in solar physics. For instance, explaining solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can knock out satellites, cause power outages here on Earth, and can also be very harmful to astronauts who are outside the Earth’s magnetic shield.”

Dr Parnell also hopes that more school children will be inspired by her success, “Science, in particular physics and mathematics, are fascinating subjects that still hold many hidden secrets. Unravelling these secrets involves making an amazing journey of discovery along a winding road that no one has ever travelled before. It can be satisfying and humbling to turn the corner and realise you have made the next real breakthrough.”



Dr Clare Parnell is available for interview on 01334 463706 or [email protected] 



For the full list of winners see








Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]
Ref:  Leverhulme Parnell 051107
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