I’ve always liked mathematics, even as a small child. I liked its rigour and simplicity, but I came to realise that what I really wanted to do was apply mathematics to understand things in nature.Professor Ineke DeMoortel
I studied Applied Mathematics and Astronomy at the KU Leuven in Belgium and during my final year, I did an Erasmus exchange to St Andrews where I became interested in Solar Physics. I returned to St Andrew’s to do my PhD and still work there, as a Solar Physicist.
It is important that we understand the atmosphere of the sun because it has a direct impact on the earth and its near-space environment. Large parts of our society’s core infrastructure (telecommunication networks, power distribution and navigation systems) are extremely vulnerable to space-weather events; magnetic storms interfere with all kinds of signals, such as satellite signals. Our society depends heavily on satellites, for example, to provide navigation information for aeroplanes and ships and to transmit radio, television and telephone signals. During a magnetic storm, huge electric currents are generated, which can disrupt power distribution on earth and cause blackouts, and oil and gas pipes to corrode faster due to the large currents travelling along them, induced by solar storms. A large solar storm (or ‘coronal mass ejection’) will bombard satellites with tons of particles, which can cause severe damage, or even disable them altogether.
I use equations that describe fluids and magnetic fields and I construct models, which I then compare to observations of the sun, to try to understand more about the solar atmosphere.
Ineke is holding a pottery plate depicting the sun.