Regional
6:00 am
Wed January 1, 2014

Major Grant Funds Solar Physics Research At NMSU

 

NMSU astronomy professor James McAteer speaks at a research rally. (photo by Darren Phillips)
NMSU astronomy professor James McAteer speaks at a research rally. (photo by Darren Phillips)

  James McAteer, New Mexico State University assistant professor of astronomy, has received a $750,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation to fund his project INSPIRE, INtegrated Solar Physics program In Research and Education. 

His work examines the sun and its activities, including how energy is stored and released on the sun. McAteer will use the grant to fund interdisciplinary projects for graduates and undergraduates in science and engineering. He is also working with collaborators at NASA. 

"The sun is plasma, and it's very hard to study in a lab because it's so hot. 
It is a complex subject that moves and evolves in various ways," he said. "In order to learn why it works the way it does, we need to take the data and be able to break it down into different subsets so we can understand little bits at a time and then build it all back up again. That was the goal."

McAteer's research interests include fundamental solar physics, advancement through the design of high-cadence imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy instruments and the sun's relationship to Earth. 

"My research is focused on applying new techniques to study the solar sources of space weather - solar flares, coronal mass ejections and the solar wind," he said. "My major areas of study are space weather monitoring and solar cycle studies, understanding the physics of solar flares and coronal mass ejections and the heating of the solar atmosphere."

Because of the complexity of his work and subject matter, McAteer's project partially relies on student research. With the assistance of colleagues, he said he hopes to establish a public database publishing the results of various research projects involving the sun. He described the work as an opportunity to get the public "intimately involved," without needing supervision from academics.

"One person cannot do it all; it's too much data," he added. "We need people to extract data, manage data and do analysis. It works across colleges, across departments, from undergraduates to faculty, combining all these subjects."

The five-year grant will help develop a long-lasting integrated research and education program in solar physics at NMSU, involving the general public, local schools, and NMSU students in learning about the sun, focusing on the key components of complexity and dynamics of coronal heating and solar flares.

"It is a massive career milestone," McAteer said. "Science funding is getting harder and harder to win, and so this award really sets up the solar physics group to concentrate on research, and builds up the national reputation of our research here at NMSU."