Each year the NASA Space Grant Program at Augsburg provides paid research assistantships to undergraduates majoring in the natural sciences, computer science, or mathematics. Research areas currently supported by this program are Space Physics, Atmospheric Science, and Environmental Monitoring. Other students gain experience in engineering by designing, constructing, and flying scientific payloads on stratospheric balloons and small rockets.
Physics professors Mark Engebretson and David Murr and their students study phenomena that occur at the edges of space – in Earth’s space environment. Dr. Engebretson’s group uses magnetometers to study waves generated in near-Earth space that help trace the flow of energy from solar activity (solar flares, coronal mass ejections), through the solar wind, and into Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere, ultimately generating both beautiful displays of light (the aurora) and dangerous fluxes of ionizing radiation (the Van Allen Radiation belts). Dr. Murr’s group focuses on using specialized instruments to detect signals from GPS satellites to study variations (including the same kinds of waves) in the ionosphere.
Augsburg senior Carl Kahlstorf was one of two first prize winners in the 2011 Midwest Regional Space Grant Consortium undergraduate poster competition for his study,” Satellite observations of band-limited Pc 1 waves associated with streaming H+ and O+ ions in Earth’s high-latitude magnetosphere.”
Chemistry Professor David Hanson and his students use advanced mass spectrometer systems to study trace amounts of volatile organic compounds in the lower atmosphere, with the goal of tracing them back through various photochemical reactions to their sources in both human activities and natural processes.
Mathematics Professor John Zobitz and his students develop and use mathematical tools to help environmental scientists analyze and interpret satellite and ground-based data on whole-ecosystem processes involving the flow of carbon through Earth’s life forms (both plants and animals).
Scientific Ballooning and Rocketry
Physics professor David Murr and his students build and fly experimental payloads to high altitudes. Recent payloads have included optical cameras, atmospheric gas sensors and sample capture systems, and electric field “mills” that can measure the very small electric fields that exist in Earth’s upper atmosphere.