Ryan Milligan - a 2002 bursary student

"This was my first taste of how 'real' research is conducted in astronomy and certainly helped me in making an informed decision to stay on at Queen's to do a PhD."

Ryan travelled to Siberia to watch a total eclipse of the sun.

Ryan was awarded a Nuffield Undergraduate Research Bursary at the end of his penultimate year at Queen's University Belfast. The funding enabled him to work with Dr Michail Mathioudakis on a vacation research project investigating the physical properties of a solar active region.

Speaking about the experience, Ryan said:
"The 2 month bursary not only gave me a headstart on my final year research project, but also bridged the gap between the theory that I had been taught during lectures, and being able to apply it to practical research. The work that I performed during that summer eventually ended up being part of my first referred publication.

"My research at the time involved the spectroscopic analysis of solar active regions. This was carried out using data from SOHO (the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory); NASA and the European Space Agency's flagship mission to study the Sun. The techniques I developed were used to determine physical parameters, such as temperature and density, of the Sun's corona directly above regions of intense magnetic field (sunspots). The results would then be compared to theoretical models to determine which mechanism is responsible for heating the solar atmosphere to a temperature 1000's of times that of it's surface."

A solar coronal loop image taken by the TRACE spacecraft.

Ryan is currently working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA. He was awarded a NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship and has been there for almost 2 years now. His current research focuses on the study of the energetics of solar flares using a variety of space-based solar observatories, including SOHO. He has travelled extensively, and recently visited Siberia to watch a solar eclipse.

Looking back, he commented:
"The data analysis techniques that I learned all those years ago are still very applicable today in much of what I do."

For more details on Ryan's research, please click here to visit his website.