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Dr. Jim McElwaine

Senior Scientist

Currently resides in Tucson, AZ
jmcelwaine [at]
Areas of Expertise
Asteroids, Ceres, Comets, Earth, Icy satellites, Mars, Moon, Planetary rings, Pluto, Small satellites, Titan, Vesta | Shape modeling, Radar, Numerical modeling, Geomorphology

Research Interests

Dr. Jim McElwaine's research interests are in geophysical fluid dynamics, with a focus on granular and multi-component flows. Granular materials are ubiquitous in the environment, in industry and in everyday life. Yet they are poorly understood. Geophysical flows such as snow avalanches, volcanic eruptions and landslides kill thousands of people every year and destroy valuable property. Research shows that 60\% of the capacity of industrial plants is wasted due to problems related to the transport of granular materials. While the flow of fluids such as air and water is well described by the Navier-Stokes equations, the governing equations for the flow of grains are unknown. Therefore, there are no general theories for rock slides, avalanches, dune formation or segregation.  This means that flow prediction is based on empirical theories, which cannot be reliably extrapolated to other environments or different scales.  His research aims to develop more general theories for granular flows by employing a variety of techniques including mathematical modelling, field and laboratory experiments, and numerical simulations. His interest in these studies is a wide ranging one that addresses fundamental physics problems but is simultaneously practical, with industrial and environmental applications.

Professional History

Dr. McElwaine's background is in applied mathematics, which he studied at Cambridge for seven years. He then worked at the institute of Low Temperature Science at the University of Hokkaido in Japan for five years on snow avalanches and wind transport, with brief spells in Grenoble and Colorado. He returned to Cambridge in 2001, with a Royal Society University Research Fellowship followed by an EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship, and is a visiting scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. He joined PSI in 2011 where he is working on Martian surface processes including carbon dioxide avalanches, rock slides and dune gullies.

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