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Physics doctoral student earns prestigious research fellowship, award for poster presentation

Pauline Dredger
Pauline Dredger

A doctoral student in physics at The University of Texas at Arlington recently earned two big awards in recognition of her outstanding research.

Pauline Dredger, a second-year Ph.D. student, received a prestigious NASA Graduate Research Fellowship to help fund her doctoral research in magnetosphere physics. She also won the Outstanding Graduate Student Poster Presentation Award during the 2019 Texas Section of the American Physical Society (TSAPS) Fall Meeting, held October 24-26 at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

“When I found out I had received the NASA Graduate Fellowship, I was very surprised,” she said. “The committee receives many great proposals from grad students all over the country, and I am very fortunate to be chosen among the recipients.”

Ramon Lopez, UTA Distinguished Professor of Physics, is Dredger’s faculty mentor and says he wasn’t surprised that she received the coveted fellowship or that she won the poster award at TSAPS.

“Pauline is an outstanding student and we were super fortunate to recruit her to our Ph.D. program since she had plenty of other offers,” Lopez said. “Her success in winning this prestigious NASA fellowship and her recognition at the Texas APS meeting is only the beginning of what I believe will be a distinguished and award-filled scientific career.”

Dredger’s work in Lopez’s lab focuses on bow shocks, which are supersonic shock waves formed by the collision of the solar wind with another medium, such as the magnetosphere of a planet.

“The solar wind, composed of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun, flows at supersonic speeds, so when it encounters the Earth's magnetic field a bow shock is formed as it slows down,” she said. “The resulting compression of the magnetic field in the solar wind, the interplanetary magnetic field, forms a current that flows on the surface of the bow shock.

“We've been looking for evidence of this current closing through the ionosphere into the Earth's polar regions by means of satellite data from the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment, or AMPERE.”

Her award-winning poster entry at the TSAPS meeting was titled “A Case Study of Bow Shock Current Closure” and details this research. It presents a case study demonstrating bow shock current closure through the ionosphere, the region of plasma within Earth’s magnetic field.

Dredger, whose hometown is Saint Marys, Kansas, received a B.S. in Physics from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. She enjoyed science growing up and was hooked on physics after learning about it in high school.

“I was fascinated by the small amount of particle physics we studied in 11th-grade chemistry,” she said. “After I had decided to major in physics at Kansas State, it wasn't until I did a summer research experience for undergraduates at Colorado University-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics that I decided magnetospheric physics was the area of physics in which I wanted to specialize.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree, she received numerous recruiting offers for graduate school. She had met Lopez at a scientific conference through one of her research advisors, and the chance to work with Lopez was the main reason for her selection of UTA.

Dredger is a member of Sigma Pi Sigma, the American honor society in physics. She says she would like to continue doing research after earning her Ph.D., possibly in a postdoctoral position, before moving on to a career in academia or at a national research laboratory.

NASA Graduate Research Fellowships provide up to three years of support for students seeking Ph.D. degrees in science or engineering fields. Total support is $27,000, which is renewable for up to three years. An additional $3,000 allowance is paid to the student’s university.