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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Dr Christopher Chen


UKRI Future Leaders Fellow | Reader in Space Plasma Physics

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 7025
Room Number: G. O. Jones Building, Room 513
Twitter: @CHKChen


Dr Christopher Chen is a Reader in the Astronomy Unit of the Department 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 become a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in 2021. In 2022, he became a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Reader in Space Plasma Physics.



SPA7004U/P Astrophysical Plasmas (Module Organiser / Lecturer)
SPA7017P Masters Projects (Co-Supervisor)

SPA7004U/P Astrophysical Plasmas (Module Organiser / Lecturer)
SPA5307 Stars (Module Associate)
SPA6776/SPA6913 Undergraduate Projects (Supervisor)

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

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

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

SPA6300 Synoptic Physics (Lecturer)
SPA6305 Physics of Galaxies (Deputy Module Orgniser)
SPA6776Undergraduate Projects (Supervisor)


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 not seen in other states of matter.

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 visible surface and accelerating the solar wind, 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 10 solar radii from the centre of the Sun - the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun's magnetically dominated 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 was a member of the Fields & Waves topical group of the Interstellar Probe mission study. ISP is a mission concept 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.

Examples of research funding:

2023-26: STFC Consolidated Grant (Co-PI)
2022-26: UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship (PI)
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)


A list of my publications can be found on ADS or Google Scholar.



PhD students:

Undergraduate summer students:

  • Ayham Yousif, 2023
  • Shreyas Venkateshwarulu, 2023
  • Daniel Vech, 2015 (→ PhD at University of Michigan)
  • David Stansby, 2014 (→ PhD at Imperial College London)
  • Laurence Leung, 2013 (→ PhD at University of California, Berkeley)

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.

If you are an undergraduate student interested in undertaking a summer research project, see Summer Student Research Programme.

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
Parker Solar Probe enters the magnetic atmosphere of the Sun
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
Nature Podcast on the source of the fast solar wind (2023)
BBC Universe: The Sun (2021)
NOVA Universe Revealed: Age of Stars (2021)
Naked Scientists Podcast interview on Parker Solar Probe first results
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
Orpington Astronomical Society (2021)
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)

Other Activities
I'm In Space STEM enrichment activity (2022)

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