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UTA physics students earn first place, honorable mention for posters at national conference

Justin Tyska, left, and Qingyu Zhu
Justin Tyska, left, and Qingyu Zhu display their awards from the CEDAR conference. Courtesy photo.

Two physics students from The University of Texas at Arlington recently received awards for their outstanding research at a national conference on Earth’s upper atmosphere sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Qingyu Zhu, a fourth-year Ph.D. student, won first place in the graduate poster competition at the Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR) workshop, held June 16-21 in Santa Fe, N.M. Justin Tyska, a senior, received honorable mention in the undergraduate poster competition.

Zhu, whose faculty mentor is Yue Deng, professor of physics, earned second place in the same competition at last year’s CEDAR conference. He said he was surprised and honored to win another award.

“Since the CEDAR poster prize is always competitive, I felt lucky to receive a prize again, especially since there were many high-quality posters this year,” Zhu said. “And it is a great honor to receive the first prize, which is great recognition of the work we have done at UTA.”

Zhu’s poster, titled “Impacts of Multiscale FACs on the Ionosphere‐Thermosphere System: GITM Simulation,” focused on the field-aligned currents (FACs) on different spatial scales and their impacts on Earth’s ionosphere-thermosphere (I-T) system.

“The FACs can significantly impact the I-T system, but we do not really know how the FACs on different spatial scales can impact the I-T system, especially from a perspective of the energy exchange,” he said. “By analyzing the satellite data and conducting numerical simulations, we found that the FACs at large spatial scale size (greater than 500 km) tend to have much stronger impacts than mesoscale (100-500 km) and small-scale (less than 100 km) FACs.”

Tyska, also a student in Deng’s lab, was skeptical at first that his work would be officially recognized as among the best the event.

“I am lucky that many found the research to be of interest and glad that they think the work thus far is a noteworthy attempt,” Tyska said. “There is of course much more work to be done, and perhaps next year, as I will officially be entering the competition as a graduate student – where the market is certainly more competitive – my project can win a more official title.”

Tyska’s poster, titled “Volcano-generated Ionospheric Disturbances: Comparison of GITM-R Simulations with GNSS Observation,” focused on the simulation of ionospheric total electron content (TEC) variations induced by volcanic eruption using the Global Ionosphere-Thermosphere Model with local-grid refinement (GITM-R) and subsequent comparison of the simulations with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data.

“The specific observational event that was the subject of comparison was the Calbuco volcanic eruptions in Chile, which occurred on April 22, 2015, particularly the first eruption,” Tyska said. “New local-grid refinement options in GITM provide the ability to capture subtle waveform characteristics in regions close to the volcano whilst still simulating the global domain through multi-layer patches. These patches allow GITM-R to save computational resources as well as apply more reasonable boundary conditions to the localized layer of interest.”

Two forcing functions were applied to the temperature distribution at GITM's lower boundary to simulate the disturbance caused by the eruption, Tyska said. This provided an initial forcing for which the results were computed and compared to the GNSS receiver data. These comparisons yield insight into which parameters should be adjusted for data-model fitting.

The pair’s research activities are supported by funding from a U.S. Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) project for which Deng is principal investigator.