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Hundreds of Solar Physicists, Ph.D. Students, and Postdocs Convene at UNH
David Sims
Science Writer
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
(603) 862-5369

June 26, 2006

DURHAM, N.H. – Jennifer Pollock, a second-year Ph.D. student from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, traveled to the High-Energy Solar Physics Summer School at the University of New Hampshire only to discover that two other Ph.D. students in attendance were doing research nearly identical to hers.

“If you’re doing Ph.D. work it’s supposed to be something original, so we need to make sure we don’t overlap” Pollock says casually. She adds, “But there’s so much to be looked at in the field that it’s not difficult to shift somewhat in another direction.”

Indeed, in the area of high-energy solar physics there’s more than enough work to go around, which is at the heart of why the summer school was created in the first place.

“I look at these students as the seed corn,” says Oklahoma State University’s Gordon Emslie – one of the summer school organizers. “The whole purpose of this is to train and educate the next generation of people who will carry out NASA space missions,” he adds.

The ten-day summer school was created to coincide with the annual meeting of the Solar Physics Division (SPD) of the American Astronomical Society being hosted this year by UNH. Some 300 solar physicists from around the world have gathered in Durham for the meeting, which begins working sessions today and runs through the end of this week. The majority of the 45 Ph.D. and post-doctoral summer school students have remained for the meeting and will present results of their own research.

“We have a lot of solar physicists here at the university so it makes sense for us to do this,” says James Ryan, UNH astrophysicist and chair of the meeting’s local organizing committee. UNH is well known for its expertise in solar-terrestrial physics and has a long and distinguished track record of NASA space science missions. For the summer school, other experts in various aspects of solar physics joined UNH faculty to provide students with a rich and diverse program.

Explains Ryan, “We’ve had teachers addressing the whole range of solar phenomena and making links between seemingly unrelated things.” And making these connections, Ryan and others assert, is a critical advantage of the intensive summer school experience.

“I wish someone had done this for me when I was a graduate student,” says OSU’s Emslie adding, “This will really prepare them well for the real world.” Such real-world exercises have included everything from writing $100,000-per-year research grant proposals to designing space missions using newly conceived telescopes, detectors, or orbits in which to launch spacecraft. And all of this will make these Ph.D. and postdoctoral students that much more receptive to the offerings of the SPD annual meeting.

“I imagine they’re going to be paying much more attention to the posters on upcoming instrument concepts, and I think they’ll be much more in tune with some of the discussion that goes on not only at the sessions themselves but at the business meeting when agency representatives from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and so forth get up and explain the opportunities coming down the line,” Emslie says.

The AAS Solar Physics Division meeting is being held in the Memorial Union Building on the UNH Durham campus and runs through Friday, June 30th. On Saturday, July 1, a one-day symposium to honor the retirement of Joseph Hollweg, UNH professor of solar-terrestrial physics, will be held in the New England Center for those gathered for the SPD meeting.

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