Philippa Browning

Professor of Astrophysics

Philippa Browning

Manchester has played an illustrious role in the history of physics, and today we do ground-breaking research in almost all areas of contemporary physics.

Manchester has played an illustrious role in the history of physics, and today we do ground-breaking research in almost all areas of contemporary physics.

I joined the University (then UMIST) in 1985; I love living in Manchester and have never felt any desire to move elsewhere.

My research

I study the interactions between magnetic fields and plasmas. My aims are to explain why the outer atmosphere of the sun – the solar corona – is heated to millions of degrees Kelvin, and to understand the most powerful explosions in the solar system: solar flares. I am also investigating how plasmas can be confirmed by magnetic fields for controlled fusion power.

Solar physics is a fascinating research field because the sun is our closest star, and has been a subject of scientific study since earliest times – and yet there are still many fundamental things we do not understand. One reason I really enjoy doing research is that one question always leads to another: so as we learn more, we find more problems to solve. I also enjoy using mathematical modelling to give real physical insight and explain observed phenomena.

My teaching

I like to think that I convey my own enthusiasm and excitement about physics. My lectures contain material from my own research fields, so the students realise the relevance of what they are learning, and can relate their studies to current research.

I really enjoy trying to get over new ideas and concepts, and it is always a good moment when you see the penny drop, and somebody understands something new.

Career highlights

When I started my career as a lecturer, there were no female professors in my institution, and very few female academic staff in physics across the UK, so it was a special moment for me when I was promoted to become professor.

Perhaps the biggest highlights for me nowadays are when my postgraduate students are awarded their PhDs, when students I have taught go on to successful careers, and when I hear news of former students who are using what they learnt here in all sorts of ways.

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