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Ian Whittaker

Ian Whittaker

Senior Lecturer

School of Science & Technology

Staff Group(s)
Physics and Mathematics


Dr Whittaker is a senior lecturer in physics and teaches modules directly related to Physics with Astrophysics degree stream for undergraduate study. He also works in second-year laboratories and supervises undergraduate projects for BSc, MSci, MRes, and summer students. Dr Whittaker is also the admissions tutor for the Department of Physics

He teaches:

  • PHYS12314: Concepts of Astronomy and Cosmology
  • PHYS22323: Stars and Galaxies
  • PHYS29002: Year 2 Laboratories
  • PHYS32312: Cosmology: Theory and Observation
  • PHYS32621: Dissertation
  • FORE20001: Forensic Imaging and Image Processing

Career overview

Dr Whittaker graduated from the University of Leicester with a Masters in Physics with Space Science and Technology, while his doctoral research was performed at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth - focussed on the upper atmosphere of Venus. Since the completion of his PhD thesis, Dr Whittaker has held six postdoctoral research contracts around the UK and New Zealand. This research has spanned space, meteorology, and medical physics. He has also had the amazing experience of working in the Antarctic at Scott Base

In 2019 Dr Whittaker won the Sir Paul Curran Award for Academic Communication from the The Conversaiton. His current public science profile also includes articles in national newspapers, BBC Frontiers magazine, and Physiology Today. His current readership in The Conversation is over 4 million and he is the most read author from NTU. These articles have led to a range of radio and tv interviews both nationally and internationally.

In 2021 Dr Whittaker won the Vice Chancellors Outstanding Teaching Award for an Early Career Teacher, and also the NTSU Teaching Award for Science and Technology.

Research areas

Dr Whittaker’s main research interest lies in the connection between the Sun and the Earth.

In his previous research roles, Dr Whittaker has used satellite images of the Sun from the Solar Data Observatory to track coronal loop oscillations during solar storms. His PhD research looked at the interaction of the solar wind with the upper atmosphere of Venus, using in-situ data from Venus Express to determine atmospheric boundary locations. He has been part of an EU project called PLASMON which investigated the effect of particles accelerated by the Earth’s radiation belts into the polar atmosphere.

One of his current research topics is looking at a novel method of imaging the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and the solar wind using X-rays generated from charge exchange. In his most recent research role he proved this method works by comparing MHD modelling to observations made by the astronomical telescope XMM-Newton. He is also a member of the SMILE team, a joint European and Chinese mission to observe this X-ray emission at the magnetopause boundary. His research has been used to simulate what the satellite should see based on a range of orbits and look directions.

Dr Whittaker also has a research interest in offworld living, looking at how plants could be grown most efficiently in a lunar base environment, as well as appropriate building materials, and power generation. Dr Whittaker also has a secondary research interest in animal magnetosense and how it is affected by changes in the Earth’s geomagnetic field (which can be strongly affected by space weather).

Other research performed by Dr Whittaker includes tracking tropical cyclones and predicting their top wind speed based on the lightning distribution inside them as a predictive tool to limit the destruction of natural disasters. He has also worked for the Institute of Cancer Research writing software to automatically analyse MRI scans of breast tissue, identifying the fat and water content as well as highlighting possible tumours.

With the development of recent field trips for undergradaute physics students, Dr Whittaker has also written pedagogical research papers looking at student mental wellbeing in offsite environments.

External activity

Over his research career, Dr Whittaker has worked hard to bring space science to the public and school students. He has demonstrated experiments at science fairs, astronomy societies, businesses, and many schools, from the inner city to private schools. He has worked on promoting a wide range of space science careers in projects such as ‘Making Space for Me’ aimed at primary school students to encourage physics education at a young age.

Dr Whittaker encourages students to enhance their science communication and accompanies them on their own outreach activities. His outreach work has included assisting with science equipment demonstrations on programs such as QI and Wonders of Nature. He has also written popular science articles on solar physics.

Dr Whittaker is also chair of the TILT Multidisciplinary group, encouraging departments to work together. He is also leading the NTU Success For All community building group in the School of Science and Technology, as well as being an external examiner at Salford University.

In his spare time, Dr Whittaker has also worked with researchers at local hospitals in New Zealand, co-authoring a publication and assisting with academic posters - on the racial disparity of the treatment of Otitis Media. He is looking at writing children’s books on physics and producing a podcast on academic life for students.

Sponsors and collaborators

Dr Whittaker has previously collaborated with:

  • The ASPERA team (Venus and Mars Express)
  • British Antarctic Survey
  • The EU FP7 PLASMON team
  • The SMILE team
  • NTU Department of Animation

And he has previously been funded by:

  • Cancer Research UK
  • STFC
  • EU FP7
  • The Marsden Fund
  • US Air Force Office of Scientific Research
  • UK Space Agency
  • Eva Crane Trust


Whittaker, I. C. The benefits and recommendations of a mental wellbeing field trip on undergraduate physics students. Further and Higher Education. Under review 2022

Kotova, D., Jin, Y., Spogli, L… Whittaker, I. C… et al. Electron density fluctuations from SWARM as a proxy for ground-based scintillation data: A statistical perspective. Under review (2022)

Wood, A.G., Alfonsi, L., Clausen, L.B.N… Whittaker, I. C… et al. Variability of Ionospheric Plasma: Results from the ESA Swarm MissionSpace Sci Rev 218, 52 (2022).

Whittaker, I. C. and Sembay, S. Solar Wind Charge Exchange Efficiency: empirical and experimental O7, O8 and O/H values. Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1002/2016GL069914 2016

Van de Kamp, M.,Seppala, A., Clilverd, M. A., Rodger, C. J., Verronen, P. T. and Whittaker, I. C. A model for energetic electron precipitation during geomagnetic storms. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. Under review 2016

Whittaker, I. C., Sembay, S., Carter, J., Read, A. M., Milan, S. E. and Palmroth, M. Modeling magnetospheric X-ray emission from solar wind charge exchange with verification from XMM-Newton observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. Vol:121, doi:10.1002/2015JA022292 2016

Whittaker, I. C., Douma, E., Rodger, C. J., and Marshall, T. An examination of lightning flash rate as a predictor of tropical cyclone winds. Journal of Geophysical Research; Atmospheres Vol:120 iss 9,doi:10.1002/2014JD022868 2015.

McCallum, J., Craig, L., Whittaker, I. C. and Baxter, J. Ethnic differences in Otitis Media and Grommet insertion among New Zealand children aged 0-14 years. N.Z. Med. J. Vol:128 No.1416 2015.

Whittaker, I. C., Clilverd, M. and Rodger, C. Characteristics of precipitating energetic electron fluxes relative to the plasmapause.  Journal of Geophysical Research; Space Physics. doi:10.1002/2014JA020446 2014

Whittaker, I. C., Rodger, C. J., Clilverd, M. and Sauvaud, J-A. The effects and correction of the geometric factor for the POES/MEPED electron flux instrument using a multi-satellite comparison.  Journal of Geophysical Research; Space Physics, 119, 1-19, doi:10.1002/2014JA020021 2014.

Whittaker, I. C., Gamble, R., Rodger, C., Clilverd, M. and Sauvaud, J-A. Determining the spectra of radiation belt electron losses: Fitting DEMETER electron flux observations for typical and storm times. Journal of Geophysical Research; Space Physics doi:10.1002/2013JA019228 2013

Wood, A., Pryse, S., Grande, M., Whittaker, I. C., Coates, A., Husband, K., Baumjohann, W., Zhang, T., Mazelle, C., Kallio, E., Fraenz, M., McKenna-Lawlor, S. and Wurz, P. The trans-terminator ion flow at Venus at solar minimum. Planetary and Space Science vol.73 iss. 1doi:10.1016/j.pss.2012.08.006 2012

Kiddie, G., DeMoortel, I., Del Zanna, G., McIntosh, S. and Whittaker, I. C. Propagating disturbances in coronal loops: A detailed analysis of propagation speeds. Solar Physics vol.279 iss.2 doi:10.1007/s11207-012-0042-5 2012

Dorrian, G., Breen, A., Davies, J., Whittaker, I. C. and 6 other authors. Transient structures and stream interaction regions in the solar wind: EISCAT interplanetary scintillation, STEREO HI observations and Venus Express ASPERA-4 in-situ measurements, Solar Physics vol.265 doi:10.1007/s11207-010-9599-z 2010

Whittaker, I. C., Dorrian, G., Breen, A., Grande, M. and Barabash, S. In-situ observations of a co-rotating interaction region at Venus identified by IPS and STEREO. Solar Physics vol.265 doi:10.1007/s11207-010-9608-2 2010

Whittaker, I. C., Guymer, G., Grande, M., Pinter, B., Barabash, S. and 38 other authors. Venusian bow shock as seen by the ASPERA-4 IMA instrument on Venus Express. Journal of Geophysical Research; Space Physics. Vol.115 iss.A9 doi:10.1029/2009JA014826 2010

Rouillard, A., Davies, J., Forsyth, R., Savini, N., Sheeley, N., Whittaker, I. C. and 20 other authors. A solar storm observed from the Sun to Venus using the STEREO, Venus Express and MESSENGER spacecraft. Journal of Geophysical Research; Space Physics. Vol.114 iss.A7 doi:10.1029/2008JA014034 2009

See all of Ian Whittaker's publications...

Press expertise

  • Solar terrestrial relations
  • How the Sun affects the Earth
  • Earth's radiation belts
  • Solar flares and coronal mass ejections
  • Venus
  • Kristin Birkeland and the aurorae
  • Changes in the Earth's magnetic field due to space weather and it's effects on the surface
  • Physics outreach, communication and education
  • Conspiracy theories (particularly Flat Earth and the Moon landings)