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Postdoctoral researcher in physics, faculty advisor honored by Texas Section of American Physical Society

UTA Planetarium
Qingyu Zhu, UTA postdoctoral researcher in physics

A postdoctoral researcher in physics at The University of Texas at Arlington and his faculty mentor have been named recipients of the 2020 Robert S. Hyer Graduate Research Award by the Texas Section of the American Physical Society.

Qingyu Zhu, who earned a Ph.D. in Physics and Applied Physics from UTA in summer 2020, received the award with Yue Deng, distinguished professor of physics and Zhu’s faculty advisor. Zhu was honored for award-winning research he first presented at the 2018 CEDAR (Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions) workshop in Santa Fe, N.M.

“It is definitely a great honor to receive the Hyer Award since it is a great recognition of my research at UT Arlington, and it is a competitive award,” Zhu said.

Zhu’s research project, titled “Impacts of small-scale electric field and particle precipitation variabilities on Joule heating: GITM simulation,” earned second place in the ionosphere-thermosphere division of the poster competition at the 2018 CEDAR workshop.

He also won first place in the same division at the 2019 CEDAR workshop for his project, “Impacts of Multiscale FACs on the Ionosphere‐Thermosphere System: GITM Simulation.”

“Qingyu is self-motivated and has a strong ability to solve problems independently. His research topics are related to the big questions in our community and his work about the meso-scale structures in high-latitude forcing has been highly recognized in the field,” Deng said. “He is a very promising student and one of the most talented graduate students that I have ever worked with.

“The research done in his Ph.D. studies has resulted in five first-author and one co-author publications, which is truly impressive. He is definitely deserving of the Hyer Award due to his outstanding performance and accomplishments during his Ph.D. period.”

The focus of Zhu’s project is Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere (I-T) system, particularly related to the estimation of energy input to the I-T system from the magnetosphere, which is supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) project.

Zhu analyzed the ionospheric electric and energetic particle precipitation at different spatial scale sizes by utilizing the Dynamic Explorer 2 satellite dataset and computed statistics to get their distributions and correlations, he said.

The study’s results showed a correlation between small-scale electric field and particle precipitation variabilities, which was quantified for the first time. In addition, the impact of the correlation between small-scale variabilities on the heating estimation was evaluated unprecedentedly using a general circulation model.

“The topic is related to the small-scale and mesoscale electric field and electron precipitation, which are not well taken into account in most general circulation models for the upper atmosphere, even statistically,” Zhu said. “First, we analyzed their correlation and found they are anti-correlated in general. Moreover, it could cause significant overestimation of the electromagnetic energy input from the magnetosphere, especially locally, if such anti-correlation is not well taken into account.”

Zhu was selected for a prestigious Advanced Study Program (ASP) postdoctoral fellowship at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, in spring 2021. The ASP program, which has been part of NCAR for more than 50 years, provides an excellent opportunity to conduct independent research as part of a collaborative cohort while being mentored by leading NCAR scientists.

“In NCAR, one topic is to study the small-scale and mesoscale electric field and electron precipitation and their impacts on the upper atmosphere during more realistic geomagnetic events instead of on a statistical basis by using advanced data techniques,” Zhu said. “The ASP fellowship will allow me to collaborate with different scientists at NCAR, so I am looking forward to exploring different topics there.”

Zhu thanked Deng for her guidance and for preparing him for an exciting career in physics research.

“Dr. Deng is an excellent mentor and her enthusiasm for discovery has fostered my passion for pursuing the research,” he said. “She gave very useful comments and suggestions for my research and continuously encouraged me throughout my graduate career. In addition, she always encouraged me to attend different workshops and meetings and introduced me to her colleagues in the field, which definitely broadened my horizons and enlarged my network.”

Deng previously won the Robert S. Hyer Graduate Research Award in 2012 with Ph.D. student Yanshi Huang.

The Hyer Award is given annually to a recipient who was a graduate student when the research was performed, and the student's research advisor. The only criteria are excellence, including potential impact in the relevant scientific community; the research must be in physics or a physics-related subject; and it must have been presented at a Texas APS meeting within the past two years. An undergraduate student is similarly honored each year.