Andrew Vu was introduced to plasma physics in an introductory course during his first year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “I immediately became enthralled by the rich interplay between plasma and electromagnetic fields that occurs everywhere in the universe,“ says the Ph.D. student. Along with his supervisor Dr. Hui Zhang, he is now studying the interactions between the solar wind and Earth’s magnetosphere. Andrew uses NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft (MMS) data, which records these interactions. And he simulates these events on a supercomputer using a program written by Dr. Peter Delamere and his Space Physics group at the Geophysical Institute.
Solar winds are streams of charged particles released by the Sun. These particles permeate the solar system. As the solar winds stream pass by a planet, they interact with the planet’s magnetic field or magnetosphere. This interaction, called a bow shock, causes the speed of the solar wind particles to drop abruptly. The foreshock region is comprised of localized and transient structures that are caused by the bow shock. These foreshock transients can lead to magnetospheric and ionospheric responses.
“I am trying to understand the large-scale kinetic phenomena, called foreshock transients, that aid in energizing plasma at [the] Earth’s bow shock. These foreshock transients cause significant effects that ultimately travel to Earth’s ionosphere and trigger aurora brightening events,“ says Andrew. These solar particles sometimes enter the Earth's magnetosphere or ionosphere. When they do this, they can compromise commercial satellites, GPS navigation, and electrical power grids. In the future, they may interfere with manned space missions to other planets.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has not really had an impact on Andrew’s ability to do his research because it can be done remotely. But there are still professional consequences. Andrew says that “the most disappointing adjustment is that the annual scientific conferences have been moved to virtual environments this year. These conferences are crucial for meeting and discussing new and exciting science topics with other researchers in person.”
Name: Andrew Vu, Professor
Institution: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Mentor: Hui Zhang, firstname.lastname@example.org
Award: Graduate Student, Research Grant
Funding Period: 2020 to 2021