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Highly competitive NASA grant will fund UT Arlington study of space weather

Monday, April 6, 2015

Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

News Topics: awards, faculty, science, weather

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University of Texas at Arlington physicist Ramon Lopez has received a $502,956 NASA grant to study the role of solar wind fluctuations in solar wind-geospace coupling.

Ramon Lopez

The highly competitive grant is sponsored by NASA’s Heliophysics Supporting Research Program, which selected 30 of 221 proposals submitted for consideration. A total of $5.4 million was awarded for the new class of projects.

Heliophysics is the science of the Sun-Earth connection through the space environment. This fast-developing field of research covers many traditional sub-disciplines of space physics, astrophysics and climate studies.

“This grant that will support our ongoing work in understanding the near-Earth space system and space weather, and it provides opportunities for UT Arlington students to be involved in cutting-edge research,” said Lopez, who joined UT Arlington’s College of Science in 2007. “Understanding the processes that transfer solar wind energy and momentum to the magnetosphere and ionosphere is central to heliophysics science.”

Lopez said the research addresses questions such as: What role does heliophysics play in how hard the wind blows? Does it enhance energy transfer, and if so, how?

“Most of our understanding of solar wind/magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling is based on quasi-static models based either on observational statistical analyses or idealized simulations for steady-state or simple transitions in external conditions,” Lopez said. “Understanding quantitatively how much the variability in actual driving affects the coupling is a key to understand the near-Earth space environment.”

James Grover, interim dean of the UT Arlington College of Science, said the NASA grant will enhance the capacity of the Department of Physics to study the near-Earth space environment.

“This project is an example of the high-impact research under way at UT Arlington. Dr. Lopez’s work will provide critical information to help manage the satellite and communications technology that we all now depend on,” Grover said.

Lopez will use a combination of computer simulation models and real observations to provide ground truth for his research.

“The key thing is that the computer simulations allow us to conduct numerical experiments in which we modify real solar wind input to see how it affects outputs in the system, like ionospheric heating.” Lopez said.

Lopez is the author or co-author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, as well as the popular science book, “Storms from the Sun.” He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he has an extensive history of service on national science and education committees, such as the National Academies of Science committee that produced the 2011 report “Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean” Most recently he was one of the co-chairs of the writing team that produced the Next Generation Science Standards.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 48,000 students around the world and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.