Nataliya Nosikova

  • Graduate student and tutor at National Research Nuclear University MEPhl, Moscow, Russia
  • Engineer at the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth of the Russian Academy of Science
  • Studied at the University Centre in Svalbard, Norway
  • Specialist Degree from National Research Nuclear University MEPhl. 

How did you come to space physics?

When I was an undergraduate student I chose a plasma physics professor to be my advisor. He was researching the Earth’s ionosphere resonances.  Lightning is constantly occurring and the electromagnetic signals from it propagate between the Earth and the conducting ionosphere, like inside a cavity. No matter where on Earth you are, you can detect the signals from those bouncing waves at the low frequency of 7.8 Hz. If you look at the radio receiver data, you will always have a spike at that frequency which is named after Winfried Otto Schumann who first studied the theoretical aspects of the global resonances of the earth–ionosphere.

It is intriguing that the human brain emits electromagnetic radiation at that same frequency of 7.8 Hz, too. On the International Space Station the astronauts lack that background frequency, because the station is located higher than the ionosphere. I have heard they create that background frequency aboard to help them feel “at home”. Actually, this topic is very popular with spiritual metaphysics. They call this frequency “the frequency of the Earth”. But I need to be very careful here not to cross the border between the science and the pseudoscience. 


What was the most extreme experience you had in your physics career?

As a graduate student at the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI in Moscow, I applied for a study abroad semester in Svalbard, Norway. I arrived on this island in the middle of nowhere, where there was darkness 24 hours a day and people spoke a language that I did not understand.

Upon arrival we had to take a week-long safety course. We were taught how to survive in the tough arctic climate. We were taught how to shoot, how to administer first aid, and how to rescue people in case of an avalanche. We were also taught how to get out of the water if we fell through the ice. After a short theoretical course, they put us in a car and drove to the lake. We had to jump into ice water wearing all the gear as it would happen in a real situation.  We were wearing snowmobile gear, and it was not waterproof. The icy water got into my clothes, into my boots and it all became very heavy. You have to get out of the water very fast. It is such a shock for your body! 

About Magnetospheric research on Svalbard

Svalbard is an ideal place for geophysicists because of its geomagnetic location and a low level of industrial noise. There it is possible to investigate the processes at the polar cap, the auroral oval, and the cusp. Spectacular events called “auroral substorms” are observed in this region.  A substorm is a brief disturbance in the Earth's magnetosphere that causes the injection of energy into the high latitude ionosphere. Visually, a substorm is seen as a sudden brightening and increased movement of auroral arcs.

We used data from magnetometers and photometers to study the substorms to understand what exactly triggers substorms. There is a classical model of how the substorms are originated. In a nutshell, if the magnetic field of the solar wind has opposite direction with the dipole magnetic field of the Earth, the process called “magnetic reconnection” happens and a lot of energy is transferred to the magnetic “tail” and the reconnection happens there. After that the resultant energy is transferred to the earth and initiates the magnetic substorm. However, about 40 percent of substorms happen when the solar wind is not antiparallel to the earth magnetic field. Therefore it is possible that some substorms are triggered by some internal processes. We are still trying to discover what drives those types of substorms. 

When you studied in Russia how many female classmates did you have?

It was unusual, but I had more girls than guys in my undergraduate group. When the professors entered the auditorium for the first time, they would open the door, look at the class, look at their schedule checking to see if it was the right room and only then entered, asking students if it was really a physics class. It was that unusual for them to see so many girls in the class. After two years of studying we had to choose specializations and I changed my group where there was a more typical physics gendre composition. However, I never felt uncomfortable studying with guys because they are fun and always happy to rescue me form the computer bugs. 

Edited by Renae Hunt, pictures provided by Victoriya Forsythe