Graduate Study in Solar Physics at Montana State University


As in any active research group, graduate students are the life blood of MSU Solar Physics research. We presently have eleven graduate students from the Physics Department in the group, either doing thesis research in Solar Physics, or working on non-thesis solar research projects while taking course work.

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What research projects are current students working on?

  • Analyzing global plasmaspheric dynamics using inverted IMAGE/EUV data. (Brian Larsen's PhD Thesis)
    EUV data and inversion
    IMAGE/EUV data and inverted data.


  • Distribution of magnetic bipoles on the Sun, and their relationship to coronal brightenings in EUV and X-ray. The data for the work come from the MDI and EIT instruments on SoHO. (Andrew Holt's PhD Thesis)

  • Improving simulations of TRACE and EIT data by providing models of how abundance and electron density variations affect temperature response profiles; education and Public Outreach; modeling high energy optical systems; developing numerical codes that link thermal hydrodynamics models and non-thermal particle acceleration, to simulate acceleration mechanisms in solar flares and postflare loop evolution (Henry (Trae) Winter's PhD Thesis).
    annotated
solar flare image

  • MOSES sounding rocket instrumental development, EUV fast imaging spectroscopy, the He II problem, ill-posed inversion problems, and transition region hydrodynamics. (J. Lewis Fox's PhD thesis)

  • Do education and public outreach; use concepts of magnetic topology to understand where magnetic reconnection takes place in flare-producing solar active regions that have been well observed by the Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI); take advantage of powerful new topological methods that use real magnetic field data and make quantitative energetic predictions, while improving the understanding of both flare initiation and evolution. (Angela Des Jardins' PhD thesis, see images below)



  • What research projects have our previous graduates worked on?

  • The Internet-based Yohkoh Public Outreach Project. (Michelle Larson's work in addition to her neutron star thesis)


  • Hardware and software for the TRACE spacecraft, launched early in 1998. (Brian Handy's PhD thesis work)


    (The telescope on the TRACE spacecraft. It images in extreme ultraviolet and far ultraviolet wavelengths to observe the Sun's transition region and corona).


  • Using Soft X-ray data from Yohkoh to measure the differential rotation curve of the corona. (Mark Weber's PhD thesis work)


    (A "stackplot" combining daily X-ray images from launch in 1991 up to 1995).


  • Theoretical models of coronal magnetic fields and their relation to X-ray loops. (Brian Welsch's PhD thesis)


    (Magnetic field lines in a model of a solar active region).

  • Analyzing TRACE data on propagating disturbances in the solar corona. (Meredith Wills-Davey's PhD thesis)


  • Operation of the TRACE spacecraft, leadership of observing campaigns, and analysis of its data. Studying the twist in the magnetic field before and after a flare, to determine if any relaxation can be detected. (Patricia Jibben)

  • Survey of the intensity of spectral emission as a function of altitude above the solar disk; evaluation of temperature and density for a hydrodynamic event using a new backgroud subtraction algorithm; and collaborating with Drs. Duncan Mackay (St. Andrews), Piet Martens, and Dana Longcope (both of MSU) on a hydrostatic potential field model of the full Sun for one Carrington rotation. (Jonathan Cirtain's PhD Thesis)
    TRACE image
    TRACE image from 18-Sep-2001


  • What courses are offered in Solar Physics? Courses in basic Physics (Quantum Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Statistical Physics) constitute the majority of classwork for any Physics graduate student. In addition there are several courses designed to introduce the student to the foundations of astrophysics and solar astronomy:
  • Physics 560: Astrophysics - Advanced astrophysics. Covers the basic physics of astrophysics, using Shu's "The Physics of Astrophysics" volumes 1 and 2, giving some emphasis to those topics that are part of the research program of the department (compact objects, gravitation and relativity, and solar physics). (Offered autumn semester of even-numbered years)
  • Physics 580-01: Hydrodynamics and Magnetohydrodynamics - An introduction to the physics of fluids and magnetized plasmas. This course focuses specifically on astrophysical fluids such as the solar corona.
  • Physics 500-13: Solar Physics Journal Club - The principal means by which students (and faculty) learn about the theories and observations of current interest in the field. Each week a paper is read by the entire class, and discussion is lead by a designated student. One or two review papers are read each semester to provide a broader background. (more details on the course including the list of past and future papers)
  • Physics 500-07: Astrophysics Journal Club - Readings from the current astrophysical literature. Format is the same as Solar Journal Club.
  • Physics 500-04: Relativity/Astrophysics and Solar Physics Seminar - One hour seminars by the students and faculty presenting their current research.

  • What can one do with a PhD in Solar Physics? Former students and post-docs of our group's faculty have found jobs in the following areas: (Detailed list)
  • University Research: 35%
  • University Teaching: 17%
  • Industrial Research: 35%
  • Astronaut: 4%
  • Other: 9%

  • Physics Graduate Student Information

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