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Canada and Norway join forces at CaNoRock PhD school in space physics

Kananaskis Country home to unique international collaboration that encourages exploration of space research
November 13, 2013

Stein Haaland and Johnathan Burchill, instructors at CaNoRock in Kananaskis Country. 

Matthew Patrick and Bill Archer, PhD students at CaNoRock. 

Twelve graduate students and four instructors from Canada and Norway are finishing up an intensive 10-day course in space physics at the University of Calgary’s Barrier Lake Field Station in Kananaskis Country.

The CaNoRock PhD School is designed to enable the mobility of researchers and students between the two countries and is paid for entirely by a Norwegian grant.

“The idea was to bring the students to the frontier of research in space physics to learn at the cutting edge and to work on a problem to which they could contribute research,” says Johnathan Burchill, one of the instructors at the PhD school and a research associate and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Faculty of Science.

The four instructors—two from Canada and two from Norway—have done a lot of planning. “We met in Norway in January for one week and came up with an agenda for how things were going to work, some topics to study and prepared some ideas for the data to unleash on the students.”

The students – from the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta, the University of Saskatchewan and four universities in Norway—are analysing data from satellite missions and ground based radar.

“Different institutions definitely focus on different instruments and different branches of research, so working with other people gives a very different perspective and helps me understand the big picture a lot better,” says Bill Archer, a PhD student at University of Calgary. “It’s been an excellent opportunity to broaden our knowledge and write papers and get a lot of understanding that we wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise.”

Archer and another grad student at the school, Matthew Patrick, are both studying with Dave Knudsen, professor of physics and astronomy in the Faculty of Science and a lead scientist for the European Space Agency’s Swarm satellite mission, which is scheduled to launch Nov. 22.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Patrick says. “Everyone is waiting with bated breath for Swarm to launch and everyone has their instruments ready.”

Swarm’s three satellites will be equipped with Electric Field Instruments which were developed at the University of Calgary. Those instruments will take key measurements to help better understand the electric field around Earth, information that can help improve navigation systems, directional oil and gas drilling and further our knowledge of the long-term stability of continental ice caps.

Last September, the University of Calgary was also involved in the CASSIOPE satellite launch.