2024 CSIRO Alumni Scholarship in Physics winner – Chloe Wilkins

January 3rd, 2024

We would like to congratulate Chloe Wilkins on winning the 2024 CSIRO Alumni Scholarship in Physics. Chloe’s project is titled, “Characterising the Sun’s open-closed magnetic flux boundary towards understanding the acceleration of the slow solar wind.”

We will be holding the award ceremony at CSIRO Lindfield on Thursday 15 February at 3.00pm. Alumni members and their guests are welcome to join us. Please register here.

Chloe explains her research and how she’s planning to use the scholarship funds to travel to Durham University:

My research is centred around developing a comprehensive global model of the Sun’s magnetic topology – research which holds immense potential for advancing our understanding of slow solar wind acceleration and its implications for Earth.

The question of the acceleration of the slow solar wind has become a pivotal research area in recent years, motivating the launches of the NASA Parker Solar Probe (2018) and the NASA/ESA Solar Orbiter (2020) flagship missions. The slow solar wind is one of the driving forces behind space weather events such as geomagnetic storms, which can cause radio blackouts and interfere with satellites and GPS technology. It is postulated in severe cases that such events could result in economic losses amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Consequently, my PhD project occupies a prominent position in the forefront of space physics research, aiming to deepen our understanding of solar dynamics and contribute valuable insights to the fields of solar physics and space weather forecasting.

Space weather forecasting – and space situational awareness more broadly – is critical for supporting the space sector, identified by the Australian government as a key area for economic growth. This motivated the formation of the Australian Space Agency in July 2018. Moreover, the Australian Academy of Science released a Decadal Plan for Space Science in early 2022, with one of its six key recommendations being “a national program focusing on space weather research activities to help protect critical infrastructure and advance space weather forecasting and space situational awareness activities.”

My work in developing a model that may provide insight into the properties of one of the driving forces behind space weather events, is directly aligned with this research aspiration.

My motivation for applying for a travel scholarship comes from my passion for research, commitment to enhancing my research skillset, and interest in expanding my professional network.
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I embraced opportunities to undertake research in the mathematical and physical sciences. My love of applied mathematics and space physics drove me to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Newcastle, which has further fuelled my ambition to forge a career in research or academia. I have a strong desire to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in my field of study and would welcome the opportunity to make meaningful research contributions through collaboration with a leading institution such as Durham University.

My research so far has been focused on exploring Potential Field Source Surface (PFSS) models for the Sun’s global magnetic field. Although the Sun’s magnetic field configuration often resembles that of a potential field, PFSS models neglect free magnetic energy and do not account for the strong electric currents that are known to be present in the Sun’s magnetic field. PFSS solutions are therefore less realistic when it comes to high-energy solar events and modelling the magnetic reconnection processes that are thought to contribute to slow solar wind acceleration.

During my visit to Durham University, I will be introduced to a more realistic global model – a magnetofrictional approach – by Professor Anthony Yeates, a leading expert in this area. This experience will broaden my expertise in the computational techniques employed in this field, contributing valuable insights to my research which will elevate the impact and quality of my analysis of the global magnetic topology of the Sun.

Durham University is a renowned institution with an outstanding reputation in teaching, research and student employability. My research in solar physics aligns seamlessly with the University’s expertise and I am confident that my collaboration here will contribute meaningfully to the outcomes of my PhD research. I am excited for the possibility to expand my professional network through collaboration with Professor Anthony Yeates, members of the Applied Mathematics research group, and academics in solar physics at neighbouring institutions.

I look forward to the opportunity to advance my PhD thesis work and greatly appreciate the award of this travel scholarship towards realising my research endeavours and my overall contribution to the advancement of solar physics.