BSc and MSc thesis topics

Below are listed topics suitable for BSc and MSc theses. MSc theses are 30 credits and maximum length is about 80-100 pages. BSc thesis are 6 credits and maximum length is about 20 pages. The motivation of the BSc thesis is to familiarize writing scientific text and they can be literature reviews or contain a small research task. Our MSc theses contain typically a more extensive research task. Most of the topics below  can be tailored to both purposes. Finnish speaking students write typically their BSc thesis in Finnish, while most of our MSc theses are written in English.

Page last updated: 07.01.2020
Exploring Properties of Solar Storms Using Radio Observations and and Modelling of Magnetic Fields

 The Sun is an active star and the source of the most powerful explosions in the Solar System such as solar flare and solar storms. Solar storms can be accompanied by bursts of radiation at radio wavelengths that result from electrons accelerated during these eruptions. In some cases, moving radio sources are associated with solar storms and their emission mechanism and relation to the solar storm is not well known. The aim is to determine the emission mechanism of these moving radio sources and to determine the origin of accelerated electrons producing these radio sources. The project will use radio images of the Sun from the Nancay Radioheliograph observed during the maximum of the current solar cycle. The radio data will be combined with spacecraft data from NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory to identify the relationship between these moving radio sources and solar storms. The data analysis will mostly be done in Python using software dedicated to the analysis of solar observations, Sunpy but IDL may also be used. Experience with coding is desired, however, training will be provided to use the data analysis tools. Contact: Diana Morosan (at) helsinki fi

Magnetic structures at the Earth’s bow shock

Shock waves are some of the most energetic plasma phenomenon in the universe and are able to accelerate the particles in the plasma to very high energies. When the magnetic field forms a small angle to the shock normal, the shock is dominated by turbulent structures known as SLAMS (short large amplitude magnetic structures). This project will use data from the four MMS spacecraft to study the structure and properties of SLAMS at the Earth’s bow shock. The project will also involve analysis of Vlasiator simulations of the bow shock and SLAMS that form there. The project will consist of identifying and qualitatively comparing SLAMS in space and simulations to infer their physical properties and role in heating and accelerating plasma. This project is suitable for a MSc thesis. Type: simulations and data analysis Contact: Andreas Johlander (at) helsinki fi

Turbulent fluctuations in CME-driven sheath regions

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are spectacular eruptions of material from the Sun’s atmosphere. As CMEs travel at supersonic speeds into the solar system, they can cause slower solar wind ahead to pile up and compress. These solar wind pile-ups, or sheath regions, are a major cause of ‘space weather’ at the Earth, and they are highly fluctuating, complex and turbulent plasma environments. This project will involve studying various properties of the turbulence in CME sheaths through the analysis and interpretation of spacecraft data. Some background knowledge of basic plasma physics would be useful but not essential. The project will involve a mix of data analysis and theory, and would be suitable for either a BSc or MSc thesis. No particular coding knowledge is required. Contact: Simon Good (at) helsinki fi

Turbulence driven by velocity shear. Credit: Homa Karimabadi
Magnetospheric wave activity driven by interplanetary shocks

Interplanetary shocks are discontinuities in the solar wind which form when a fast stream or structure propagates at a speed that is larger than the characteristic speed in the ambient plasma. At Earth’s orbit, most interplanetary shocks precede fast coronal mass ejections as they propagate through our solar system. When they impinge on the Earth’s magnetosphere, they cause important space weather effects in near-Earth space. Interplanetary shocks create in particular intense wave activity in the magnetosphere. These waves subsequently accelerate particles in the inner magnetosphere up to relativistic energies. These high energy particles can damage spacecraft electronics, and it is therefore crucial to understand the processes and conditions leading to particle energisation. The aim of this Master’s project is to characterise the properties and the distribution of the waves generated by interplanetary shocks as a function of the driver’s properties, such as the strength of the shock or its inclination. This work will be based on the analysis of wave measurements performed by an array of ground-based magnetometers. The interplanetary shock properties will be retrieved from the Heliospheric Shock Database developed at the University of Helsinki. Type: data analysis Contact: Lucile Turc (at) helsinki fi

Real-time physics-based space weather forecasting using Euhforia

Solar eruptions and in particular coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are the main drivers of space weather, i.e., conditions in space that can have an adverse effect on the performance of space-borne as well as ground-based technological systems. With our society becoming increasingly more dependent on such technologies, answering the need for space weather prediction capabilities has risen to become a key topic in solar-terrestrial research efforts. UH is actively engaged in the development of a novel European space weather tool named EUHFORIA. The goal of this thesis work is to introduce the student to the physical modeling principles powering EUHFORIA, to run space weather forecasts as well as aid in the development of the tool. Tasks can include e.g. assessment of the accuracy of the space weather predictions, determination of error sources in the modeling pipeline or developing new components to the model, for instance implementation of magnetic flux-rope based models of coronal mass ejections. Type: simulations and data analysis Contact: Eleanna Asverstari (at) helsinki fi

Snapshot of the EUFHORIA simulation showing the radial solar wind speed
Numerical analysis of Precipitation of particles from the Earth’s magnetosphere

Precipitation of particles from the Earth’s magnetosphere into the upper atmosphere is one of the most visible manifestations of space weather and may have significant effects on ground-based human-made infrastructures as well as spacecraft. Precipitating particles with energies ranging within 0.1–20 keV are responsible not only for auroral emissions, but also for spacecraft charging and disruption of radio signals used for telecommunications and navigation. Auroral proton precipitation can be studied using the Vlasiator global kinetic model of the terrestrial magnetosphere developed at the University of Helsinki. The aim of this project will be to compare precipitating proton fluxes obtained with Vlasiator to an empirical model which is a function of geomagnetic activity. The data analysis will essentially be done using Python and the Python-based analysis software of Vlasiator outputs, Analysator; hence, familiarity with coding in Python or other languages is desired. This project can be set to be suitable for both a BSc or MSc thesis. Type: simulations and data analysis Contact: Maxime Grandin (at) helsinki fi

Programming a new energetic particle acceleration model

Solar energetic particles are accelerated at coronal and interplanetary shock fronts. This acceleration takes place through the interaction of energetic ions and plasma waves. This project offers an opportunity to investigate this interaction in a novel new manner. A skilled applicant is sought for implementing a first prototype version of a new acceleration simulation code in C++. Experience in git and CUDA/OpenACC use is a plus. This project can result in an MSc or BSc thesis and can last 4 months. Type: simulation development Contact: Markus Battarbee (at) helsinki fi

Heliospheric shock Database and properties of interplanetary fast-mode shocks

Fast mode shocks are ubiquitous in the interplanetary space. In solar-terrestrial physics the role of fast shocks is of paramount importance as they accelerate charged particles to very high energies (several tens of MeV) and the turbulent post-shock flows may cause severe geomagnetic disturbances. In addition, the study of collisionless shocks is an important part of fundamental plasma physics. The Heliospheric Shock Database developed and maintained at the University of Helsinki is a comprehensive database of interplanetary shock database with user-friendly search and data download options. The thesis work is related to the development of the Heliospheric Shock Database , in particular related to its Machine Learning code and conducting an analysis of shock properties at different heliospheric distances and driven by different large-scale heliospheric structures. Type: code development and data analysis. Contact: Emilia Kilpua (at) helsinki fi

Left) Heliospheric Shock Database, University of Helsinki. Right) Strong interplanetary shock captured by the ACE spacecraft.
Effects of Helium ions on kinetic plasma processes in the Magnetosphere

Learn what the Earth’s magnetosphere sounds like when it inhales Helium! To the largest extent, interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetosphere can be modelled by relying purely on electrons and protons, ignoring any contributions by heavier ion species. However, there are some processes, where Helium and Oxygen ions can play an important role: Shock physics, reflected particle-wave instabilities, magnetic reconnection and magnetospheric mirror modes are among them. Using simulation results from the Vlasiator team, this project aims to quantify how strong these effects actually are: where they can be completely ignored, where their effects can be easily be estimated analytically, and where they have to be more thoroughly modelled. The project is directly contributing to a European Research Council grant. Type: Modelling and data analysis Contact: Minna Palmroth (at) helsinki fi

Influence of the interplanetary magnetic field strength on the properties of magnetosheath mirror modes

Mirror mode waves are plasma waves which are characterized by anti-correlated fluctuations of the magnetic field strength and plasma density. They develop in plasmas with large temperature anisotropies and are observed in many space environments, such as planetary magnetosheaths, the wake of comets and ICME sheaths. Here we will focus on mirror modes developing in the Earth’s magnetosheath. Understanding the properties of the magnetosheath is particularly important in the study of solar-terrestrial relations as this region is at the interface between the solar wind and the magnetosphere and regulates the energy and plasma transfer from the former to the latter. The aim of the project will be to compare the properties of the mirror modes in two simulation runs with almost identical set-ups, but with different interplanetary magnetic field strength, which allows to separate the effects of a change in this parameter. The runs have been performed with a global model called Vlasiator, which simulates the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction with unprecedented detail. The results will be compared with spacecraft observations. The project is directly contributing to a European Research Council grant, and a Marie Curie grant. Type: Modelling and data analysis Contact: Minna Palmroth (at) helsinki fi

Energy transfer at the magnetopause

The magnetopause is an intriguing boundary that separates the Earth’s magnetic domain (called the magnetosphere) from the interplanetary space. All magnetospheric dynamics, like the vivid auroral displays, are driven by energy transferred from the solar wind. Energy transfer is hot topic in magnetospheric physics, but it is investigated globally only approximately. Vlasiator is the world’s most accurate space environmental simulation developed with two ERC grants. The target here is to utilise Vlasiator and to first develop a method for magnetopause detection. Knowledge of the boundary location will then be used to perform analysis of energy transfer at the magnetopause as a function of driving conditions. Type: Modelling and data analysis Contact: Minna Palmroth (at) helsinki fi

Electron precipitation and atmospheric chemistry during different solar wind drivers

Solar influence on climate is an active research area. Recent atmospheric models attempt to take into account energetic particle precipitation effects on the middle atmosphere. In particular, modeling the energetic electron precipitation (EEP) is a challenge. Most significant source of EEP is the Van Allen radiation belt. Wave-particle interactions scatter the electrons trapped originally in the Earth’s magnetic field into the atmosphere. EEP leads to the production of gases having important role in middle atmosphere ozone balance. It is known that radiation belts respond differently to different solar wind drivers (coronal mass ejection related plasma clouds, their turbulent sheath regions and slow-fast stream interaction regions). However, EEP and resulting atmospheric response have not yet been related to the type of the solar wind driver. Organizing the EEP and atmospheric response with the type of solar wind driver might help to understand better solar influence on regional climate. This MSc thesis is focused on analyzing EEP and atmospheric response (in particular ozone response) during coronal mass ejections and sheath regions. Contact: Emilia Kilpua (at) helsinki fi

Van Allen radiation belts are source of high energy electrons precipitating into the atmosphere
Shock ion reflection in Vlasiator
Shock waves are ubiquitous in astrophysical plasmas. Shocks form when supersonic flows encounter an obstacle like a star, the interstellar medium or the Earth’s magnetic field. The shock wave that forms acts to slow down and heat the plasma. At a shock wave, a portion of the incoming supersonic ions are reflected back upstream. This process of ion reflection is the main source of the energy transfer from kinetic to thermal energy. This project consists of analyzing simulation results from the Vlasiator model in a region of the shock which is largely unexplored in Vlasiator. The goal of the project is to quantify ion reflection and characterize the physical processes of ion reflection at shocks to test against previous theories and observations. This project is suitable for a MSc thesis. Type: simulations and data analysis Contact: Andreas Johlander (at) helsinki fi
Sheath regions driven by interplanetary coronal mass ejections

Interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs) are huge eruptions of plasma and magnetic flux originating from the Sun.  ICMEs often propagate through interplanetary space so fast that a shock wave forms in front them. The plasma between the shock and the leading edge of an ICME is called the sheath region. ICME-driven sheath regions have particularly turbulent internal structures because of complex physical processes at the shock and the ICME leading edge, and they are remarkable drivers of geomagnetic activity. ICME-driven sheaths differ from planetary magnetosheaths due to the expansion they experience while propagating in interplanetary space. This BSc topic will focus on ICME sheaths, their general properties and the ways they differ from other sheath structures by reviewing literature. Both theoretical and practical approaches are possible. Also, the topic can include a small research task and extended to a MSc thesis. Contact: Emilia Kilpua (at) helsinki fi

An illustration of a solar storm hitting a planet. Credit: Nasa Goddard
Magnetic helicity in space plasma

Magnetic helicity is one of the key observables in solar and interplanetary studies. In particular, small-scale solar dynamo produces magnetic helicity and without removing it continuously from the Sun the large-scale dynamo would quench. In addition, it has been suggested that the reversal of the large-scale solar magnetic field every about 11 years is facilitated by huge magnetized plasma clouds, coronal mass ejections, removing helicity. This thesis will focus on presenting the concept of the magnetic helicity (different definitions) at the Sun and in interplanetary space and reviewing the key literature around this issue. For a MSc thesis this topic can be extended to include an analysis of the helicity of magnetic clouds in the solar wind. Contact: Emilia Kilpua (at) helsinki fi

Helical flux rope ejected from the Sun. Image Credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
Hamiltonian approach to wave-particle interactions of relativistic electrons.

The Earth’s radiation belts are the site of acceleration for electrons reaching velocities comparable to the speed of light. Generation of relativistic electrons constitute a threat to satellites and an open fundamental problem for a wide range of astrophysical plasmas. In this project we will use Hamiltonian theoretical tools and numerical tools to quantify the energisation of electrons. This project is suitable for a student of theoretical physics or applied mathematics with a background in analytical mechanics, electromagnetic and some basics coding experience. The tools we will use have a wide range of application across many fields of physics and can constitute a good springboard for a PhD. Contact: Adnane Osmane (at) helsinki fi

Flux Transfer Events and their interaction with Earth’s polar cusps

The solar wind carries magnetic field structures with a wide variety of field orientations towards Earth. In situations where the interplanetary magnetic field happens to be southward, it can cancel out part of the Earth’s dipole field. This process does not happen in a continuous manner, but in bursty phenomena called Flux Transfer Events (FTEs). Magnetic field lines on Earths’ dayside are are opened and reconfigured into plasmoids that carry magnetic field energy polewards. There, the plasmoids reconnect to the fieldlines coming out of the polar cusp structure, releasing some of their high energy plasma. The goal of this project is to understand and quantify the process of FTE-cusp interaction from global kinetic simulation data, and to compare to satellite and ground-based observations as well as theory. Type: simulation and data analysis Contact: Urs Ganse (at) helsinki fi

Mesh refinement criteria in Vlasiator

The Vlasiator project, as part of the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Research of Sustainable Space (FORESAIL), produces some of the world’s largest space plasma simulations using top-tier supercomputers. The aim is to provide the highest quality kinetic modelling of near-Earth space in order to deepen the understanding of the phenomena underpinning space weather processes. This project will investigate strategies for the adaptive refinement of the spatial resolution of the simulation mesh based on physical criteria. It will lead to qualitative improvements of the results thanks to the better targeting of the resolution. It will also lead to a direct quantitative reduction of the computational cost of Vlasiator, in line with sustainability goals. This project is suitable for a BSc or MSc thesis. Knowledge of C/C++, space plasma physics, linux, and Python programming is beneficial. Type: simulation Contact: Yann Kempf (at) helsinki fi

Quantitative analysis of resolution effects in Vlasiator

This project will use a number of pre-existing simulations to evaluate the effects of numerical resolution and spatial dimensions on a simple plasma physics shock question. A supercritical plasma shock reflects a portion of incoming particles, forming a foreshock region and exciting plasma waves in the upstream of the shock. This project will compare low and high resolution runs in order to validate the level of kinetic physics resolved at each level. The project is suitable for an advanced BSc or a MSc thesis. Python knowledge is a bonus. Type: simulation Contact: Markus Battarbee (at) helsinki fi