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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Jesse Coburn Wins RAS Keith Runcorn Thesis Prize

Jesse Coburn, a former PhD student at Queen Mary University of London, has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Keith Runcorn Thesis Prize for his doctoral work, which was carried out in QMUL's Astronomy Unit.

Jesse Coborn

It has been announced today that Dr Jesse Coburn, a former PhD student in the Space & Astrophysical Plasmas group of QMUL’s Astronomy Unit, has been awarded the Keith Runcorn Thesis Prize of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). The RAS, founded in 1820, is the UK’s professional organisation of Astronomy, Solar System Science, and Geophysics, with around 4000 members, and the Keith Runcorn Prize is given annually to one awardee for best doctoral thesis in geophysics, planetary science, or solar physics. Only one recipient is chosen from the community each year for the award in the subject area, so this is an impressive achievement. The prize comes with £1000 and an invitation to present the thesis work at the RAS Ordinary Meeting.

Dr Coburn’s doctoral work, carried out at Queen Mary under the supervision of Dr Christopher Chen, used in situ spacecraft data from the solar wind to reveal a new understanding of the fundamental behaviour of space plasmas. His thesis tackled an important open question - the extent to which space plasmas, like the solar wind, behave in ways that are more like a fluid than expected from standard theoretical estimates. This has important implications for our ability to model a range of space and astrophysical systems, for example in space weather applications near Earth and also in distant astrophysical environments where only remote observations are possible. Dr Coburn's work involved developing new analysis methods to determine the solar wind "effective collisionality”, i.e., how fluid-like it is behaving, finding it to be a thousand times more so than standard estimates, a highly significant result. He also developed new theoretical and simulation methods to investigate the physical processes responsible for this. It was this unique and innovative combination of observations, theory, and simulations that led to his receipt of this prize.

Commenting on the prize, Dr Coburn said, “I am grateful for being nominated and awarded the RAS Keith Runcorn Thesis Prize 2023. I could not have achieved this tremendous piece of work without the guidance and support of my supervisors throughout my career. In particular, I want to thank Dr. Chris Chen and Prof. David Burgess for their guidance during my PhD and after.”

Dr Coburn is now expanding his research interests at UCL, where he is undertaking a postdoctoral position, working on data from the Solar Orbiter mission to investigate the nature of solar wind instabilities, plasma shocks, the development of the solar wind and the origin of magnetic switchbacks.



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