We’re delighted to share the second blog post in the series of updates being produced by our 2017 Microgrants beneficiaries. The following post is from Nathan Case, Lancaster University, whose work aims to make the general public aware of possible sightings of the Northern Lights.
Back in May this year, I visited the Gradconsult office (or GC Towers at it’s better known!) as one of five recipients of the innovative “microgrant” scheme. The scheme, which enables new researchers and early career academics to get experience of writing and managing funding bids, provides small but very welcomed pots of money to carry out a wide-range of research.
I was fortunate enough to be awarded £550 to help cover the cost of installing new scientific equipment in the beautiful Shetland islands, as part of the AuroraWatch UK project. AuroraWatch UK is a free service, run by myself and other space scientists at Lancaster University, that issues alerts when the aurora borealis (more commonly known as the “northern lights”) might be visible from the UK.
Northern lights captured from Fisherrow, Scotland. Credit: Ronan Cantwell
The project operates several “magnetometers” located across the UK, though we had always been without a magnetometer in the far north of Scotland. Magnetometers are scientific instruments that record disturbances to the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the aurora. The stronger the disturbance we measure, the stronger the aurora is likely to be and the further south in the UK it is likely to be seen. It was really important to our followers that we installed a magnetometer in Shetland, the most northerly part of the UK, as this would help us provide accurate aurora alerts for the whole of the UK.
So, with the generous funding provided by this microgrant, I flew up to Shetland to set up this new magnetometer at the start of September. Working in partnership with the Shetland Amenity Trust, I installed the magnetometer in the grounds of the stunning Sumburgh Head lighthouse.
The new magnetometer (white box and grey pipe) is now installed near the Sumburgh Head lighthouse, Shetland. Credit: Nathan Case.
As you can see from the photos, I was very lucky with the weather! Though I hear Shetland is a beautiful place to visit – even during the stormy months!
The view from the magnetometer at Sumburgh Head. A stunning place to visit! Credit: Nathan Case.
The magnetometer is now up and running, providing valuable data for scientific study, as well as useful aurora alerts for Shetland the rest of far north Scotland.
Data from the AuroraWatch UK magnetometers. The new Shetland magnetometer is the top line. The disturbances we measure in Shetland can be much larger than the rest of the UK – providing really useful scientific insights.
I’m really thankful to Gradconsult for providing me with this funding. Not only is it a great accomplishment on a personal level, providing useful experience of applying for grants and managing budgets, it has also allowed me to help others in their quest to see the northern lights. AuroraWatch UK receives no formal funding, and so the opportunity to install this magnetometer was only made possible through the generous funding of this microgrant.
I’d encourage any early career researcher, whose research can positively affect others, to consider applying for Gradconsult’s microgrant scheme when it next opens. A little bit of money can go a long way and the experience of applying for and managing your own grant is a really worthwhile experience.
Our Microgrants scheme will open for applications on 1st March 2018. If you would like more information, please get in touch with Kylie Cook.