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

Research

Research Interests:

I am a Lecturer and STFC Ernest Rutherford Research Fellow in the Astronomy Unit. My research area is 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, and generating the large-scale magnetic fields we see in the universe.

I am involved in several space missions, including:

  • Parker Solar Probe (PSP): I am a member of FIELDS team, which has developed a suite of instruments for the NASA Parker Solar Probe mission. This spacecraft 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.
  • Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS): MMS is a group of four closely-spaced spacecraft to study magnetic reconnection in and around the Earth's magnetosphere. I am a member of the MMS Science Working Team.

Publications