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Physics doctoral student wins 2nd place in poster competition at national conference

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 • Media Contact: Louisa Kellie

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Qingyu Zhu

Qingyu Zhu, a third-year UTA physics Ph.D. student

A doctoral student in physics at The University of Texas at Arlington received accolades for his research at a national conference on the Earth’s upper atmosphere sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Qingyu Zhu, a third-year Ph.D. student, was awarded second place in the ionosphere-thermosphere division of the poster competition at the 2018 Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions workshop, held this summer in Santa Fe, N.M. Entrants included students from universities across the United States.

His poster was titled, "Impacts of small-scale electric field and particle precipitation variabilities on Joule heating: GITM simulation." Zhu’s research focus is Earth's ionosphere and thermosphere system, particularly related to the estimation of energy input to the system from the magnetosphere.

This research is supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative project, a $7.3 million national initiative led by UTA to develop a next generation space weather simulator capable of predicting energy distributions during space weather events like solar flares to an accuracy of one degree longitude and one degree latitude – about 100 km in each direction.

Current estimates of the energy entering the upper atmosphere during times of greatest solar output can be off by as much as 100 percent. As a result, the models used to forecast trajectories and track satellites orbiting in a specific region can also yield an error of up to 30 percent, affecting the stability of GPS and communication systems.

High-frequency radio waves, used in military, governmental and aviation communications, weather stations, maritime sea-to-shore services and distress communications and shortwave international and regional broadcasting, are also affected by the disturbances.

“I was very excited and surprised when I found out that I had won the second-place prize because it is highly competitive,” Zhu said. “The reason why I chose this topic is because people in our research community have been interested in how the small-scale ionospheric electrodynamics process, which has not been well studied before, can impact the energy input estimations in the numerical models used in our community.”

Yue Deng, UTA professor of physics, has been Zhu’s faculty advisor since he began his doctoral studies at UTA in 2015.

“Qingyu is a bright and hard-working student. He is one of the most talented graduate students that I have ever worked with,” Deng said. “He has been progressing very well in his research, which has involved data analysis and simulation with a global General Circulation Model.”

The accuracy of numerical simulation of Earth’s upper atmosphere depends on the accuracy of the estimation of energy input or heating, which is always challenging, Deng explained.

“We have found the electric field and particle precipitation variabilities are anti-correlated on small-scale, which has important implications for the energy input estimations in the numerical models we use,” Zhu said.

“The current field I am working on is related to the precipitation of the energetic particles from space, which induces the beautiful aurora at Earth's high latitudes. I really love those fascinating aurora images. And I can learn physics as well as coding at the same time, which are also good experiences for me.”

The study’s results have been reported in a paper submitted to the Journal of Geophysics Research: Space.

Zhu grew up in Anhui Province, China. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China and came to UTA in 2015.

The CEDAR program aims to understand changes in the atmosphere over short and long time scales. A primary goal of CEDAR is to explain how energy is transferred between atmospheric regions by combining a comprehensive observational program with theoretical and empirical model efforts. CEDAR focuses on the capability enhancement of ground-based instruments to measure the upper atmosphere and to coordinate instrument and model data for the benefit of the scientific community.