McWILLIAMS, Kathryn A.
Department of Physics and Engineering Physics
Telephone: (306) 966-6605
Facsimile: (306) 966-6400
B.Sc. (U Sask) 1994
M.Sc. (U Sask) 1997
Commonwealth Fellow (1998-2001)
Ph.D. (U Leicester) 2001
NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow (2002-2004)
Research and Academic Interests
Dr. McWilliams, who works at the Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies, is a member of the Canadian SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network) team (Dr. George Sofko, Principal Investigator). SuperDARN is an international network of HF radars, nine of which are located at high northern latitudes and 6 of which are located in the Antarctic. These paired Doppler radars measure the convection velocity (or equivalently the convection electric field) over vast portions of the Earth's polar ionospheres. SuperDARN measurements are largely made in the regions where the aurora borealis and the aurora australis (the northern and southern lights) are most active - the auroral zones. These regions are very important to the Earth's space environment as they are the regions where huge amounts of energy can be transferred to the upper atmosphere from the solar wind via the Earth's magnetosphere. For example, during a typical substorm 50 gigawatts of power can be dumped into the Earth's ionosphere; this produces the beautiful aurora that we can see at night in Saskatoon.
Dr. McWilliams is primarily involved with assimilative studies of the Earth's magnetosphere-ionosphere system. She combines SuperDARN measurements of the Earth's ionosphere, images of the ultraviolet aurora seen from space, images of the visible aurora seen from the ground, magnetic fluctuations observed on the ground and in space, and particles detected in the upper atmosphere, the magnetosphere, and the solar wind. This multi-instrument approach has the advantage of being able to reveal information about both the particles and the fields which exist in the Earth's space environment.
Dr. McWilliams was first involved with SuperDARN as an NSERC summer student, when she was part of the team that built the radar located just outside of Saskatoon. Her M.Sc. work at the U of S involved estimations of field-aligned currents from SuperDARN velocity maps. Field-aligned currents are the primary means by which the magnetosphere and the ionosphere are linked. During the course of her M.Sc. work, Dr. McWilliams spent several months at Imperial College, London, analysing magnetic field data from Saturn from the Voyager 1, Voyager 2, and Pioneer 11 spacecraft. She also worked for several months at the British Antarctic Survey, which is home to the group that operates the Antarctic SuperDARN radar located at Halley Station. After her M.Sc. work, Dr. McWilliams received a Commonwealth Scholarship and went to the University of Leicester in England, where she worked with the Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group, who operate the CUTLASS pair of SuperDARN radars in Fenno-Scandia. Her Ph.D. work was an examination of the direct coupling of the solar wind to the magnetosphere-ionosphere system, primarily by means of transient magnetic reconnection, or 'flux transfer events.' Dr. McWilliams returned to the University of Saskatchewan in 2002 as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow, where she rejoined the Canadian SuperDARN team.