Space Physics — Graduate Research

Cassini satellite

Space Physics is the study of everything above Earth's atmosphere, up to the edge of the solar system. It includes the Earth's ionosphere (the ionized gas just above the atmosphere), the magnetosphere and magnetotail (beyond the ionosphere), the Sun's corona and solar wind, the planets, inter-planetary space, and cosmic rays. Our research program includes all these subjects. Student research projects include analyzing spacecraft data, performing theory, building equipment for sounding rocket experiments, or simulating space physics conditions using laboratory experiments. Students also participate in weekly seminars.

Image gallery

With the strong international reputation of our space physics faculty, including a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and our commitment to graduate research, Iowa is a long-established leader amongst universities in space physics. Our faculty includes experimenters who have built instruments for spacecraft including Voyager, Cassini, Polar, Cluster, Juno, Van Allen Probes, and Magnetospheric Multiscale and sounding rockets. Space physics research at Iowa attained international prominence in 1958 when Prof. Van Allen discovered energetic particles trapped in Earth's geomagnetic field, forming the "Van Allen Radiation Belts." Iowa has always been a preeminent center of space research since then.

Arya Afshari

Space plasmas

Sebastian DePascuale

Space plasma physics

Kenneth G. Gayley

Radiative transfer; radiation hydrodynamics; spectral line diagnostics.

  • Theory Topics: highly supersonic stellar winds accelerated by photon pressure; radiation transport in stellar atmospheres and disks; how massive stars lose mass prior to a supernova
  • Simulation Topics: colliding winds in hot-star binaries, radiation transport in outflows from stars
  • Students may participate in international collaboration in stellar research
  • Students' experience in writing dynamic numerical simulations prepares them for positions either as academic postdocs or as software specialists in industry
Donald A. Gurnett

Experimental space plasma physics.

  • Experimental studies of planetary radio emissions and plasma waves
  • Student analysis of spacecraft data: Voyagers 1 and 2 (now interstellar space); Cassini (in orbit around Saturn); Cluster (consisting of four spacecraft in Earth orbit); Mars Express in orbit around Mars; and Juno (in orbit around Jupiter)
  • Supervised over 60 space physics thesis projects; former students now at NASA centers, industry, other universities
  • Students also interact with other group members, including research scientists, engineers, and programmers
Jasper S. Halekas

Experimental space physics.

  • Space plasma physics around moons and planets and in the interplanetary medium
  • Development of spaceflight instrumentation to make high-resolution measurements of charged particles
  • On-campus facilities include a laboratory for spaceflight hardware assembly and calibration
  • Students participate in the development of spaceflight instruments, in collaboration with engineers, scientists, and technicians at Iowa and partner institutions
  • Students  also analyze spacecraft data from the Earth, the Moon, Mars, the Sun and solar wind, and outer planets
  • Students gain skills in spaceflight hardware development, programming, and data analysis
Sarah Henderson

Space plasma physics

Robert Holdaway

Experimental space physics

Stephanie Howard

Space physics

 Gregory G. Howes

Theoretical and computational plasma physics.

  • Turbulence in the magnetized plasmas found in laboratories, space and astrophysics
  • Analysis of spacecraft data from the turbulent solar wind
  • Students develop skills including high-performance computing on the nation's fastest supercomputers, analysis of simulation and observational data, and development of simple analytical models to interpret results
  • Students also interact with group members including a postdoc and collaborators around the world
Allison Jaynes

Experimental space physics

  • Inner magnetosphere and radiation belts particle dynamics, particularly high-energy electrons and protons
  • The physics of the aurora in Earth’s ionosphere
  • Relativistic particle effects throughout the magnetosphere in the vicinity of magnetic reconnection
  • Solar driving of the near-Earth space environment
  • Co-Investigator on NASA’s Van Allen Probes and MMS missions
  • Hardware and instrument development focused on the above science questions
Craig A. Kletzing

Experimental space plasma physics; laboratory plasma physics.

  • Experimental measurements of wave electric and magnetic fields in the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts
  • Plasma wave and particle processes that occur in the aurora
  • Electric field measurements near regions of magnetic reconnection
  • Students get hands-on experience with spaceflight hardware
  • Laboratory experiments to test theory for Alfvén waves, turbulence, and collision operators
  • Experiments are prepared at Iowa and then performed at UCLA's Large Plasma Device (LAPD) user's facility
  • On-campus facilities include: two vacuum chambers, an electronics lab, and spaceflight hardware assembly lab
  • Students perform both laboratory and rocket experiments and work on data from satellite missions
  • Students also interact with other group members including two research scientists, and electronics system engineer, postdocs, as well as scientists at other institutions including those at UCLA
Dan McGinnis

Space Physics

David Miles

Experimental space physics and spaceflight instrumentation

  • Space weather, solar-terrestrial physics, and auroral dynamics

  • Interpretation of space-based magnetic field measurements

  • Development of spaceflight instrumentation to make high-resolution measurements of magnetic fields

  • Instrument Co-PI of the magnetic field instrument on the Cassiope/e-POP Spacecraft

  • Instrument PI and student mentor for the Ex-Alta 1 CubeSat

Robert L. Mutel

Radio astronomy; space physics; plasma astrophysics.

  • Observations using radio telescopes and spacecraft
  • Astronomical instrumentation, especially optical spectroscopy
  • Stellar and planetary redio emission
  • Students use radio telescopes: Very Large Array (VLA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Arecibo; and an optical telescope (Iowa Robotic Observatory) located in Arizona
  • Students develop programming skills using Python and CASA (radio astronomical imaging)
  • Students also interact with peer group members and other astronomy faculty
Jack D. Scudder

Space plasma physics.

  • Signatures of Heat conduction in semi-collisional Astrophysicsal Plasmas
  • Developing Transport Theory in the presence of Kurtotic Suprathermal Tails in Finite Knudsen number plasmas
  • Kurtosis Formation in semi-collisional Astrophysical Plasmas
  • New Models of Solar Corona and Stellar Wind Expansions
  • Diagnostics of Magnetic Reconnection in Space Plasmas
  • Students develop skills in: writing codes in C, Fortran and IDL, and numberical methods
  • Employment opportunities are postdoc positions at universities and national labs
Steven R. Spangler

Radio astronomy; plasma astrophysics; space plasma physics.

  • Solar corona, solar wind, interstellar medium
  • Students use the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope
  • Students also encouraged to carry out instrumentation-development projects with the 4.5 meter instructional radio telescope on roof of Van Allen Hall
  • Students develop skills in numerical methods, writing code in Python and other languages