ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
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Special Feature: SPACE WEATHER

New space science courses cover planetary physics and the perils of space weather

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Problems with Moon Dust


An instrument designed and built to observe polar mesospheric clouds (night shining clouds) from space can also measure ozone, according to results verified by the research of undergraduate Heather Hunter (ECE '08). Hunter is working in the Aeronomy and Remote Sensing Laboratory, analyzing data from the NASA AIM satellite that launched last April.

She presented her results in a poster session at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, Calif., in December 2007.

The cloud imaging and particle size (CIPS) instrument is observing the clouds and determining particle sizes and the proportion of the incident light that is reflected. "When the clouds are not present," she explains, "CIPS observes only the sunlit Rayleigh-scattered background brightness, which is controlled by ozone present above 40 km from the earth's surface."

She created a model of the atmosphere from existing data and compared it to the satellite data, following a technique developed for solar backscattered ultraviolet instruments. "Our results show that CIPS can reasonably measure ozone column density and the ratio of the ozone and neutral air scale heights."

Hunter, who started working in the laboratory last May, says she was initially surprised by the amount of space science research and the complexity of the projects. "I was also very surprised that there were so many opportunities emerging in space science research for students. I'm glad to see the department encouraging students in this area."

Before joining the laboratory, she had decided she most enjoyed the area of electromagnetics. She had a strong interest, but no previous course work in space or atmospheric science and had much to learn. Her experience has convinced her to follow a career in the field. She wants to work in RF propagation engineering, then return to school for more education in atmospheric science. "This is an exciting area of study with a very promising future. This isn't 'mainstream EE', but I'm eager to see more students get involved."

For more information, visit: www.space.vt.edu.