Prof Steve Milan

photoProfessor of Heliospheric Physics, Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group


Room F63, Physics Building


Tel: +44 (0)116 223 1896

Steve Milan on ResearchGate


Personal details

  • BSc (Hons), PhD (Leicester)

I studied Physics with Astrophysics at the University of Leicester, graduating in 1990, before undertaking a PhD in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics (RSPP) Group, under the supervision of Professor Mike Warrington and Professor Mark Lester.

I subsequently held post-doctoral research positions in RSPP until 2000 when I became a Visiting Research Fellow at the National Institute for Polar Research in Tokyo.

I 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. I was Senior Undergraduate Tutor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 2013 to 2015. From 2015 to the present day I have been Exams Officer for the Department.

Between 2013 and 2019, I held a visiting Adjunct Professor position at the Birkeland Centre for Space Sciences, University of Bergen, Norway.  I was Secretary for Magnetospheres in the Division of Solar-Terrestrial Sciences of the European Geosciences Union from 2006 to 2012 and was the principal investigator for ground-based support of the European Space Agency Cluster mission from 2003, for which I was awarded an ESA award for 'outstanding contributions to the Cluster mission' in 2005.  I have been a member of the SCOSTEP Advisory Committee on 'Future Research Directions' and Reporter for 'Global Magnetospheric Dynamics' of IAGA Division III.  From 2011-2014 I was the coordinator of the EU-funded, Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) European Cluster Assimilation Technology (ECLAT) project.

I 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. I am most proud of my award from the Space Physics and Aeronomy Section at the 2007 American Geophysical Union Meeting for 'Paper with Cutest Subtitle'.

I have 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.  I am also currently a Topical Editor for Annales Geophysicae (2014-present), published by the European Geosciences Union.

I was lead proposor of the Ravens mission concept to the European Space Agency's M3 spacecraft mission call in 2010, the leader of the ESA science definition team for KuaFu-B from 2011-2012, and the lead proposer of Ravens to the 2015 M4 call. Not having learnt my lesson, I was then lead proposer of JANUS to M5.


My teaching in the academic year 2018/19 included:

Second year:

  • Intermediate Modern Physics: Evolution of mechanics- from Newton to Quantum Field Theory, PA2600B

Third year:

  • Quantum Mechanics, PA3210 (units 2 and 3)
  • 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'

Fourth year:

  • Space Plasmas, PA4319. 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: IDL for IDLers:

  • IDL for IDLers is a short tutorial on the structure and syntax of IDL, with a focus on basic programming techniques
  • Course notes for IDL for IDLers
  • Required files for IDL for IDLers course (.zip file).  Please let me know if you have problems accessing these files

Selected publications

Milan SE, M-T Walach, JA Carter, H Sangha, and BJ Anderson, Substorm onset latitude and the steadiness of magnetospheric convection, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 124, 2019.

Carter JA, SE Milan, A Fogg, L Paxton, and BJ Anderson, The association of high latitude dayside aurora with NBZ field-aligned currents, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 123, 2018.­10.1029/2017JA025082

Milan SE, LBN Clausen, JC Coxon, JA Carter, M-T Walach, K Laundal, N Østgaard, P Tenfjord, J Reistad, K Snekvik, H Korth, and BJ Anderson, Overview of solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupling and the generation of magnetospheric currents, Space Sci. Rev., 206, doi: 10.1007/s11214-017-0333-0, 2017.

Milan SE, Sun et Lumière: solar wind-magnetosphere coupling as deduced from ionospheric flows and polar auroras, in Magnetospheric Plasma Physics: The Impact of Jim Dungey’s Research, eds. D. Southwood et al., Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings 41, Springer, doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-18359-6_2, 2015.

Fear RC, SE Milan, and R Maggiolo, Direct observation of closed magnetic flux trapped in the high latitude magnetosphere, Science, 346(6216):1506-10, doi: 10.1126/science.1257377, 2014.

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.

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


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, espescially 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, especially ULF waves
  • Ionospheric physics; ionospheric morphology; auroral ionosphere; collisional plasma instability mechanisms; E region irregularities
  • Solar wind transients and imaging the inner heliosphere


Postgraduate - it has been my pleasure to supervise the following postgraduate students through their PhD studies:

  • Dr Suzanne Imber (2005-2008) - now Lecturer at the University of Leicester
  • Dr Peter Boakes (2006-2009) - now postdoctoral researcher for the Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • Dr Anthony Williams (2008-2012) - now satellite software engineer in Germany
  • Dr Thomas Conlon (2011-2015) - went on to become a postdoctoral researcher at University of St. Andrews
  • Dr John Coxon (2011-2015) - now postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southampton
  • Dr Maria-Theresia Walach (2013-2017) - now postdoctoral researcher at Lancaster University
  • Harneet Sangha (2017-present)
  • Gemma Bower (2019-present)


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

  • Dr James Wild (2002-2005) - now Professor 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 the University of Leicester
  • Dr Jennifer Carter (2013-present)

Share this page:

Contact Details

Tel.: +44 (0)116 252 3506
Fax: +44 (0)116 252 2770

Department of Physics & Astronomy,
University of Leicester,
University Road,
Leicester, LE1 7RH,
United Kingdom.


For current students and general enquiries within UoL:

For Postgraduate Research enquiries:

For general enquiries outside UoL:

Student complaints procedure


AccessAble logo

The University of Leicester is committed to equal access to our facilities. DisabledGo has a detailed accessibility guide for the Physics and Astronomy Building.