Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Prof. Jasper Halekas is featured in this article about faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who are doing impactful and interesting work across disciplines. 

What is the focus of your work? 

My research focuses on understanding the origins of the solar wind and its interactions with planets and moons. The solar wind is a flow of hot ionized gas (aka plasma) that is accelerated outward from the sun, reaching speeds of roughly a million miles per hour. This wind flows throughout our solar system, where it interacts with the magnetic fields, atmospheres, and sometimes the surfaces of planets and moons. The energy carried by the solar wind is significant, and it can even influence long-term planetary evolution.  

We do not yet fully understand how the solar wind is accelerated, but with the new measurements being made now, our scientific community is coming ever closer to solving this puzzle. We are also making great progress in understanding the impacts of the solar wind on planetary systems. It is an exciting time to be in this field.  

My group designs and builds spaceflight instruments to make high-fidelity charged particle measurements, and uses them to understand the fascinating plasma physics that occur in the interplanetary medium and the environments near the various bodies of our solar system. Our research spans the intersection between planetary science and pure space plasma physics, touching on planetary geology and atmospheres, magnetic reconnection, shocks, plasma sheaths, and plasma waves and turbulence. A unifying theme of our research is the use of charged particle measurements to remotely infer plasma processes. 

Tell us about the broad impact you’d like your work to have.  

I hope that my research contributes in some way to a better understanding of our universe. Science is fundamentally a process by which we build knowledge, and each researcher is a part of that process. I love my work, because each new project brings a new challenge — and I love to solve puzzles. If my research can contribute to new understanding, one small puzzle piece at a time, then I consider my career well spent.   

What excites you about the environment in CLAS?  

I truly appreciate being part of a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I firmly believe in the value of a liberal arts education, and I am glad that my department contributes to that mission. I look back on my own college education, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn about subjects as diverse as physics, mathematics, computer science, geology, literature, folklore, religion, languages, etc. So, I am very happy to contribute to providing that formative experience for the next generation of students.  

I am also grateful that we currently have fantastic leaders in our college who are working very hard to help us all succeed in our research and educational missions.  

What are your hobbies and pursuits outside of work? 

My ideal fall weekend day would include a morning trail run with my dog, spectating at my kids' soccer games, going for a family adventure in one of the nearby state/county parks, stopping for ice cream on the way home, and kicking back with a science fiction book or a show.