PhD Positions in Earth Space Environment

Catholic University of Leuven

Within the new ERC Advanced Grant TerraVirtualE (PI Lapenta), we advertise 3 PhD positions to join the team of Prof. Giovanni Lapenta at the Centre for mathematical Plasma Astrophysics (CmPA) of the Mathematics Department of KU Leuven, Belgium. Selected candidates will work on the study of the Earth Space Environment (called Magnetosphere) using observations from space missions, theory, simulations, and artificial intelligence. The three selected candidates will interact with each other, with the team of Prof. Lapenta (about 10-15 collaborators among postdocs, PhD and Master students), and of other professors at the CmPA, at the Leuven.AI Institute and elsewhere at KU Leuven as well as with a wide network of European Commission and Belgian-funded projects (e.g., the SPACE Center of Excellence of EuroHPC, the ASAP project for the use of AI onboard space missions, the FWO project Helioskill on the use of AI to study space plasmas and the Belgian Defence project AIDefSpace on the study of space weather forecasting with A.I.). The Centre for mathematical Plasma Astrophysics (CmPA) of KU Leuven ( is a large and growing research group focusing in plasma physics, astrophysics, and space science. The CmPA has long been a leading force at KU Leuven and in Belgium in the development of space weather and supercomputing, co-founding the Intel Exascience Lab and leading the first European Commission-funded project in space weather (SOTERIA coordinated by Lapenta). Our team also has decadal experience in getting access to the world’s Top500 supercomputers, receiving the RD100 prize for high-performance computing in the USA and the Chinese Academy of Science prize for fastest applications on what was at the time the fastest supercomputer in the world (Tianhe-2).


The study of the Earth space environment (magnetosphere) is of great intellectual interest for the direct access it offers to critical processes with many astrophysical and laboratory applications (waves, instabilities, magnetic reconnection, particle acceleration, turbulence, shocks). But the study of the magnetosphere is also of great societal impact because space weather processes can lead to severe storms in space with existential consequences for humans and technology in space and posing a serious threat to the infrastructures (electrical grid, telecommunications) our society depends upon. TerraVirtualE intends to develop the first model of this environment based entirely on first principles: i.e. using a direct numerical simulation of both ions and electrons present in the system without introducing approximations in their evolution.

We foresee three possible focuses, one for each selected PhD candidate and/or in collaboration:

  • The study of fundamental processes in the Earth space environment using theory, simulation, and observational data (e.g. from the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission)
  • The development of supercomputer simulations and numerical techniques for the Earth space environment, using the newest supercomputers available in Europe and worldwide
  • The use of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to analyse processes and data sources relative to the Earth space environment


PhD applicants should hold (before start-date of the position) an M.Sc. degree in astrophysics, physics, mathematics, computer science, artificial intelligence/machine learning or else own an equivalent diploma. Interest or experience in at least one of the following topics is a positive asset:

  • Space missions and space exploration,
  • Data analysis, artificial intelligence/ machine learning,
  • Computer science, computational (astro)physics,
  • Analytic/numerical model-development,
  • Knowledge of programming (preferably in C++ and python, parallel computing and use of GPUs)

Proficiency in English is required for all applicants (or is expected to be achieved during the first months of employment).


The application package should include:

  • a curriculum vitae, with a publication list if relevant;
  • a statement of research interest (max. 1 page);
  • a summary of the research experience (max. 2 pages)
  • a list of all master courses with their number of study points and the individual scores obtained as well as the yearly averages.
  • the names and contact details of two reference persons who would be prepared to send confidential recommendation letters should they be requested to do so. The selection committee will send out requests for such letters for applicants on the short-list after an initial ranking.

The short-listed applicants will be invited for an interview (to be held through videoconference or in presence depending on the geographical constraints and sanitary conditions).


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Giovanni Lapenta, tel.: +32 16 32 79 65, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than May 31, 2023 via the
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  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: May 31, 2023
  • Tags: Wiskunde
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