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School of Physics and Astronomy

Dr Christopher Chen

Christopher

STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow | Lecturer in Space Plasma Physics

Email: christopher.chen@qmul.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 7025
Room Number: G. O. Jones Building, Room 513
Twitter: @CHKChen

Profile

Dr Christopher Chen is a Lecturer and STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow in the Astronomy Unit of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Queen Mary University of London. He gained his PhD in Space Physics at Imperial College London in 2011, before taking up a research position at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2013, he returned to Imperial as a Junior Research Fellow and in 2016 was awarded an STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowship. In 2017, he moved to QMUL to take up his current position as Lecturer in Space Plasma Physics.

Teaching

2020-21
SPA7004U/P Astrophysical Plasmas (Module Organiser / Lecturer)
SPA7015U Undergraduate Projects (Supervisor)

2019-20
SPA7004U/P Astrophysical Plasmas (Module Organiser / Lecturer)
SPA6305 Physics of Galaxies (Deputy Module Orgniser)
SPA6776/SPA6913 Undergraduate Projects (Supervisor)

2018-19
SPA6300 Synoptic Physics (Lecturer)
SPA6305 Physics of Galaxies (Deputy Module Orgniser)
SPA6776/SPA6913 Undergraduate Projects (Supervisor)

2017-18
SPA6300 Synoptic Physics (Lecturer)
SPA6305 Physics of Galaxies (Deputy Module Orgniser)
SPA6776/SPA6913 Undergraduate Projects (Supervisor)

 

 

Research

Research Interests:

My research interests are in space plasma physics, in particular the solar wind and the variety of processes that occur within it. The solar wind is created as material from the Sun is continually propelled into interplanetary space - this material is so hot that the majority of its particles are ionised, forming a plasma that displays a rich variety of complex behaviour.

The solar wind is one of the best places to study fundamental plasma physics. Throughout the solar wind, there are many spacecraft making detailed in situ measurements of its properties, such as the electromagnetic fields it contains and the distributions of the different particle species. My research involves the analysis of this data, along with theoretical and computational models, to understand its behaviour and address some of the outstanding problems in plasma astrophysics.

In particular, I am interested in solar wind turbulence. The solar wind does not flow smoothly, but displays complex chaotic behaviour over a large range of scales. This turbulence is not well understood, and is particularly interesting because it involves the chaotic interaction between the electromagnetic fields and vast numbers of charged particles, touching on fundamental questions in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics. As well as being a topic of fundamental interest, plasma turbulence is thought to play an important role in many areas of modern astrophysics. For example, it is thought to be involved in heating the solar corona to several hundred times the temperature of the Sun's surface, determining the propagation of energetic particles such as cosmic rays, enabling the formation of accretion disks through angular momentum transport, generating the large-scale magnetic fields we see in the universe, and in the space weather events that can impact our society here on Earth.

I am involved in several space missions, including:

  • Parker Solar Probe (PSP): I am a member of FIELDS and SWEAP teams of the NASA Parker Solar Probe mission. PSP was launched in August 2018 and is traveling to within 9 solar radii from the Sun's surface - the first spacecraft to fly through the solar corona - to directly sample the solar wind at its birth. With this data, we will be able to investigate the role played by turbulence and other processes in the heating of the corona and generation of the solar wind.
  • Interstellar Probe (ISP): I am a member of the Fields & Waves topical group of the Interstellar Probe mission study. ISP is a mission concept in Study Phase being designed to explore the outer edges of heliosphere and the interstellar plasma. If selected for launch, ISP will become the furthest operating spacecraft from Earth representing humanities frontier of space exploration.
  • Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS): MMS is a group of four closely-spaced spacecraft launched in 2015 to study magnetic reconnection and other kinetic plasma processes in and around the Earth's magnetosphere. I am a member of the MMS Science Working Team.

Funding

2020-23: STFC Consolidated Grant (Co-I)
2016-21: STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowship (PI)
2017-18: Royal Society International Exchanges Grant (PI)
2016-18: NASA Heliophysics Supporting Research Grant (Co-I)
2015-17: UK Space Agency Research Grant (Co-I)

Publications

A list of my publications can be found here.

Supervision

PhD students that I currently supervise:

If you are interested in undertaking a PhD project with me, please see the details of the AU PhD Programme and send me an email expressing your interest together with your CV.

Public Engagement

I have a variety of experience in public engagement. Some examples are listed below. Feel free to contact me if you would like me to take part in your public engagement activity.

News Articles
Researchers uncover intense chaotic motions of the solar wind
Closest-ever approach to the Sun reveals dynamic origins of solar wind
Spacecraft measurements reveal mechanism of solar wind heating
How solar wind gains energy while moving through space

Media Interviews
Naked Scientists Podcast interview on Parker Solar Probe first results (2019)
BBC Radio London live interview on Parker Solar Probe launch (2018)
Imperial College Podcast interview on Solar Orbiter spacecraft (2016)
Interview for Capioca website (2015)

Science Exhibits and Festivals
Summer of Space interactive exhibit at the Science Museum (2019)
Parker Solar Probe interactive exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida (2018)
Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition on Rosetta and Comet 67P (2016)

Popular Science Talks
Croydon Astronomical Society (2019)
Public talk on Parker Solar Probe at QMUL (2018)
Nerd Nite London (2015)
Crayford Astronomical Society (2014)
Eastbay Astronomy Society (2013)