Prof Steve Milan

Professor of Heliospheric Physics in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group

photoProfessor of Heliospheric Physics

BSc (Hons), PhD (Leicester)

Tel: 0116 223 1896


Office: Room F62, Physics Building


Professor Milan studied Physics with Astrophysics at the University of Leicester before studying for a PhD in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics (RSPP) Group, under the supervision of Prof Mike Warrington and Prof Mark Lester.  He subsequently held post-doctoral research positions in RSPP until 2000 when he became a Visiting Research Fellow at the National Institute for Polar Research in Tokyo.  He was appointed as a Lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester in 2001, being promoted to Reader in 2007 and gaining a Chair in 2011. He was Senior Undergraduate Tutor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 2013 to 2015.  He is now considerably older than his photograph would suggest.

From 2013, Prof Milan has a visiting Adjunct Professor position at the Birkeland Centre for Space Sciences, University of Bergen, Norway.  He was Secretary for Magnetospheres in the Division of Solar-Terrestrial Sciences of the European Geosciences Union from 2006-2012 and has been the principal investigator for ground-based support of the European Space Agency Cluster mission since 2003, for which he was awarded an ESA award for "outstanding contributions to the Cluster mission" in 2005. He was awarded the European Geophysical Society's "Young Scientist's Publication award" in 2001, and the Royal Astronomical Society's "Chapman Medal" for "outstanding contributions to Solar-Terrestrial Physics" in 2013.  He is also proud of his award from the Space Physics and Aeronomy Section at the 2007 American Geophysical Union Meeting for "Paper with Cutest Subtitle".

Prof Milan has been an Associate Editor of Geophysical Research Letters (2007-2009) and the Journal of Geophysical Research (2010-present), both published by the American Geophysical Union.  He is also currently a Topical Editor for Annales Geophysicae (2014-present), published by the European Geosciences Union. From 2011-2014 he was the coordinator of the EU-funded, Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) European Cluster Assimilation Technology (ECLAT) project.

Prof Milan was lead proposor of the Ravens mission concept to the European Space Agency's M3 spacecraft mission call in 2010, in 2011-2012 was the leader of the ESA science definition team for KuaFu-B, and was the lead proposer of Ravens to the 2015 M4 call.  Not having learnt his lesson yet, he will lead the proposal of Ravens to M5 in 2015/16.  He is currently a member of the SCOSTEP Advisory Committee on "Future Research Directions" and Reporter for "Global Magnetospheric Dynamics" of IAGA Division III.

Research interests

My research interests centre on solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupling, that is the mechanisms by which energy is coupled from the solar wind into the near-Earth environment, the resulting behaviour of the magnetosphere/ionosphere system, and the impact on the environment and technological systems.  The expanding/contracting polar cap paradigm is used as an underpinning framework for understanding magnetospheric dynamics: terrestrial magnetic flux is connected and subsequently disconnected from the interplanetary medium by magnetic reconnection at the dayside magnetopause and in the magnetotail, respectively, in a process that is depressingly akin to balancing the incomings and outgoings of a bank account.  My main observational tools are the SuperDARN radar network, space-based auroral imagery, and the AMPERE technique that exploits magnetometer measurements from the 60+ satellites of the Iridium telecommunications constellation.

MagnetosphereAuroral storm

Areas that I have published on in the past include:

  • Magnetospheric physics; planetary magnetospheres, Mercury, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn;
  • Solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling; the expanding/contracting polar cap paradigm and ionospheric convection; magnetospheric structure and dynamics, esp. the substorm cycle and magnetotail; transpolar arcs;
  • Coordinated ground- and space-based studies; radar techniques; HF radio propagation; impact of auroral processes on HF radio propagation; auroral physics and imagery;
  • Magnetic reconnection, flux transfer events; magnetohydrodynamic waves, esp. ULF waves;
  • Ionospheric physics; ionospheric morphology; auroral ionosphere; collisional plasma instability mechanisms; E region irregularities;
  • Solar wind transients and imaging the inner heliosphere.


My teaching in academic year 2015/16 included:

2nd year:

  • Evolution of mechanics: from Newton to Quantum Field Theory, opt2616

3rd year:

  • Quantum Mechanics, PA321 (units 3 and 4).
  • Group Research Projects (GReP); previous projects have included "Music of the (magneto)Spheres"
  • 3rd year Pair Projects; past projects have included "Substorms: How, What, Why, When?", "AMPERE's Law: field-aligned currents in Earth's magnetosphere", "Good vibrations"

4th year:

  • Space Plasmas, opt4319.  Course material can be found here
  • 4th year Research Projects; past projects have included "Auroral face-space", "The fearful asymmetry of the Tyger's stripes", and "Zombie Apocalypse!"
  • 4th year Advanced Study Projects; past projects have included "Size Matters!", "Sundials and Foucault's Pendulum", and "The Fourth State of Matter"

IDL (Interactive Data Language) programming course:

  • Course notes for IDL for IDLers can be found here


Post-graduate - it has been my pleasure to supervise the following post-graduate students through their PhD studies:

  • Dr Suzanne Imber (2005-2008) - now Lecturer at University of Leicester
  • Dr Peter Boakes (2006-2009) - now post-doc for Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • Dr Anthony Williams (2008-2012) - now satellite software engineer in Germany
  • Dr Thomas Conlon (2011-2015) - now post-doc at University of St. Andrews
  • Dr John Coxon (2011-2015) - now post-doc at University of Southampton
  • Dr Maria-Theresia Walach (2013-2017) - now post-doc at Lancaster University
  • Katie Herlingshaw (2015-present)

Post-doctoral - the following people actually did all the hard work over the years:

  • Dr James Wild (2002-2005) - now Prof James Wild at Lancaster University
  • Dr Robert Fear (2006-2013) - now Head of Group at University of Southampton
  • Dr Adrian Grocott (2010-2013) - now Lecturer at Lancaster University
  • Dr Suzanne Imber (2011-2013) - now Lecturer at University of Leicester
  • Dr Jennifer Carter (2013-present)

Selected Publications

Clausen LBN, JBH Baker, JM Ruohoniemi, SE Milan, JC Coxon, S Wing, S Ohtani, and BJ Anderson, Temporal and spatial dynamics of the region 1 and 2 Birkeland currents during substorms, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 118, doi: 10.1002/jgra.50288, 2013.

Imber SM, SE Milan, and M Lester, Solar cycle variations in polar cap area measured by the SuperDARN radars, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 118, doi:10.1002/jgra.50509, 2013.

Milan SE, Modelling Birkeland currents in the expanding/contracting polar cap paradigm, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 118, doi: 10.1002/jgra.50393, 2013.

Clausen LBN, JBH Baker, JM Ruohoniemi, SE Milan, and BJ Anderson, Dynamics of the region 1 Birkeland current oval derived from the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), J. Geophys. Res., 117, A06233, doi: 10.1029/2012JA017666, 2012.

Fear RC, and SE Milan, The IMF dependence of the local time of transpolar arcs: Implications for formation mechanism, J. Geophys. Res., 117, A03213, doi: 10.1029/2011JA017209, 2012.

Fear RC, and SE Milan, Ionospheric flows relating to transpolar arc formation, J. Geophys. Res., 117, A09230, doi: 10.1029/2012JA017830, 2012.

Grocott A, SE Milan, SM Imber, M Lester, and TK Yeoman, A quantitative deconstruction of the morphology of high-latitude ionospheric convection, J. Geophys. Res., 117, A05317, doi: 10.1029/2012JA017580, 2012.

Milan SE, JS Gosling, and B Hubert, Relationship between interplanetary parameters and the magnetopause reconnection rate quantified from observations of the expanding polar cap, J. Geophys. Res., 117, A03226, doi: 10.1029/2011JA017082, 2012.

Radioti A, D Grodent, J-C Gérard, SE Milan, B Bonford, J Gustin, and W Pryor, Bifurcations of the main auroral ring at Saturn: ionospheric signatures of consecutive reconnection events at the magnetopause, J. Geophys. Res.,116, A11209, doi: 10.1029/2011JA016661, 2011.

Grocott A, JA Wild, SE Milan, and TK Yeoman, Superposed epoch analysis of the ionospheric convection evolution during substorms: onset latitude dependence, Ann. Geophys., 27, 591-600, 2009.

Milan SE, A Grocott, C Forsyth, SM Imber, PD Boakes, and B Hubert, A superposed epoch analysis of auroral evolution during substorm growth, onset and recovery: open magnetic flux control of substorm intensity, Ann. Geophys., 27, 659-668, 2009.

Milan SE, PD Boakes, and B Hubert, Response of the expanding/contracting polar cap to weak and strong solar wind driving: implications for substorm onset, J. Geophys. Res., 113, A09215, doi: 10.1029/2008JA013340, 2008.

Milan SE, G Provan, and B Hubert, Magnetic flux transport in the Dungey cycle: A survey of dayside and nightside reconnection rates, J. Geophys. Res., 112, A01209, doi: 10.1029/2006JA011642, 2007.

Imber SM, SE Milan, and B Hubert, Ionospheric flow and auroral signatures of dual lobe reconnection, Ann. Geophys., 24, 3115-3129, 2006.

Milan SE, B Hubert, and A Grocott, Formation and motion of a transpolar arc in response to dayside and nightside reconnection, J. Geophys. Res., 110, A01212, doi: 10.1029/2004JA010835, 2005.

Milan SE, SWH Cowley, M Lester, DM Wright, JA Slavin, M Fillingim, CW Carlson and HJ Singer, Response of the magnetotail to changes in open flux content of the magnetosphere, J. Geophys. Res., 109, A04220, doi: 10.1029/-2003JA010350, 2004.

Milan SE, M Lester, SWH Cowley, K Oksavik, M Brittnacher, RA Greenwald, G Sofko, and J-P Villain, Variations in polar cap area during two substorm cycles, Ann. Geophys., 21, 1121-1140, 2003.

Milan SE, M Lester, SWH Cowley, and M Brittnacher, Dayside convection and auroral morphology during an interval of northward interplanetary magnetic field, Ann. Geophys., 18, 436-444, 2000.

Milan SE, M Lester, SWH Cowley, and M Brittnacher, The convection and auroral response to a southward turning of the IMF: POLAR UVI, CUTLASS, and IMAGE signatures of transient magnetic flux transfer at the magnetopause, J. Geophys. Res., 105, 15741-15756, 2000.

Milan SE, TK Yeoman, M Lester, EC Thomas, and TB Jones, Initial backscatter occurrence statistics from the CUTLASS HF radars, Ann. Geophys., 15, 703-718, 1997.

Full publications list [link]


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