York professor digs deeper

Jason Guriel is York’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge). Guriel, a first-year graduate student in English, is writing stories on York NSERC-funded researchers throughout the year.The following is one of his stories.

Not unlike a car engine, the fluid core of the earth far beneath our feet demonstrates the simple characteristics of a dynamo, providing our immense planet with its magnetic field.

But what keeps this ‘dynamo’ going? In other words, how does the earth continually produce and sustain its magnetic field?

These are just a few of the important questions currently being explored by York Prof. Keith Aldridge (right), Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, Faculty of Pure & Applied Science.

For years, scientists have subscribed to the notion that the earth’s magnetic field is the result of two types of convection: thermal convection, which concerns the processes of heating in the earth’s core, and compositional convection, which deals with the separation of the core’s lighter and heavier elements.

One unfashionable theory however – a theory initially dismissed by scientists over 20 years ago – is once again finding favor with researchers like Aldridge. As the earth rotates, it bulges at its center, a process that ultimately may be responsible for generating the earth’s magnetic field.

Aldridge’s interest in this phenomenon of “parametric instability” represents a significant and groundbreaking step away from the convection paradigm, and may potentially prove useful in helping other scientists better understand real-world issues like air turbulence.

Assisted by graduate student Ross Baker, Aldridge’s work is also interdisciplinary, cutting across such different fields as geophysics and paleomagnetism, while also drawing on laboratory work, physics, mathematics and computer science. It’s yet another example of the unique, progressive spirit of York, whose scientists are always pushing their imaginations beyond the limits of their disciplines.

By re-examining abandoned roads of inquiry, York is once again redefining the pursuit of innovation. And redefining the possible.

SPARK stands for, a program that was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada. Through SPARK, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on the NSERC-supported research at participating universities.