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Dr David Williams
Mullard Space Science Lab
Holmbury St Mary
  • Lecturer
  • Dept of Space & Climate Physics
  • Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

I studied for my B.Sc in Physics with Astrophysics at Queen's University Belfast, where one of my undergraduate projects was under Mihalis Mathioudakis. I enjoyed his clarity of thought about spectroscopy, and when I was offered a CAST Ph.D. position, jointly funded by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, to study with Mihalis, Francis Keenan and Ken Phillips (through the RAL sponsorship), I keenly accepted. 

Although I began my Ph.D. studies looking at more active analogues of our own Sun (flaring cool stars), I soon moved to studying the small-scale waves that were theorised to pass along the magnetic loops that make up the Sun's corona. Using data from Ken Philips' innovative SECIS instrument, I found evidence of waves with a short period (of a few seconds), passing along one of many coronal loops that poked out from behind the Moon's disc during an eclipse. 

SECIS had been designed to image the Sun very quickly (44 frames per second) and our experience in QUB with that design went on to enable Mihalis' very successful ROSA instrument, now in place at the US National Solar Observatory.

When I finished my postgraduate studies in 2002, I joined Mullard Space Science Lab as a postdoc because they were preparing to fly the EUV Imaging Spectrometer (PI: Len Culhane) on the Japanese Hinode satellite. Launch delays meant that it didn't fly for another four years, but when it did, I moved to the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science just outside Tokyo, where I lived for three years, working as the UK's Scientist in Residence for EIS. I was responsible for the UK's share of operating the satellite, and for training and hosting visitors from Europe. The experience was scientifically fantastic, and culturally very rewarding, and I look on that time with great fondness.

After returning to the UK in 2009, I took up a UCL University Fellowship, and subsequently became a lecturer in 2012 in the Solar Physics group, a position I still hold. I have supervised three Ph.D. students to day: Tom Pollard (now a researcher at M.I.T.), Jack Carlyle (returned from a year at the Max Planck Inst. for Solar System Research) and Stephanie Yardley; I am prone to gush about their many great qualities as scientists whenever asked.

Research Groups
Research Summary

I'm interested in analysing the structure of the Sun's outer atmosphere: the beautiful and tenuous corona. To do this I use a few different tactics, all with this goal in mind.
My main focus is on using ultraviolet spectra to investigate the way material collects and moves around and along these magnetic field lines that we know thread throughout the solar corona. In most cases, these field lines connect to little "north" and "south" poles scattered all over the sun. Where this happens, we see beautiful "loops" where higher concentrations of plasma are bound to the magnetic field: something that only happens to charged particles like ions and electrons. But in some cases, the loops start on the sun and seem to fade off into the larger solar system.
The unique thing about spectrometer instruments, like our own Hinode EIS, is that they can give you so much information! Think of them as a combined speed detector and forensics lab for the Sun.
I also use imaging data taken by multiple scientific satellites to analyse the variation structures on small scales, like in loop oscillations, to large scales – as in the filament eruptions that lead to coronal mass ejections, the solar storms often felt in Earth's environment.

Teaching Summary

Each year, I give students on UCL's MSc in Space Science and Engineering a challenge to build a satellite. Think of it as The Apprentice for satellite geeks.

I also lead the UCL Level 4 course in Solar Physics with Dr Sarah Matthews, which has a nice mix of students studying for 4-year MSci degrees in Physics, Natural Sciences undergraduates, postgraduate students studying Space Science & Engineering or Astrophysics, and intercollegiate students from our sister universities in London.

01-JUN-2012 Lecturer Space and Climate Physics UCL, United Kingdom
01-APR-2009 – 31-MAY-2012 University Research Fellow Space and Climate Physics UCL, United Kingdom
01-JAN-2007 Hinode EIS Project Scientist    , United Kingdom
01-SEP-2006 – 31-MAR-2009 Hinode EIS Chief Observer & Scientist in Residence Space & Climate Physics & Hinode Team Office UCL & ISAS/JAXA, Japan
01-APR-2002 – 31-AUG-2006 Hinode EIS Chief Observer Space & Climate Physics UCL, United Kingdom
01-APR-2002 – 31-MAR-2006 Postdoctoral Research Fellow Space & Climate Physics UCL, United Kingdom
Academic Background
2003 PhD Doctor of Philosophy – Astrophysics Queen's University of Belfast
/ BSc Hons Bachelor of Science (Honours) – Physics and Astrophysics Queen's University of Belfast
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