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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 15, 2010

Scudder elected Fellow of American Geophysical Union

Jack Scudder, professor in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy, was recently elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The honor will be presented during the December 2010 AGU meeting.

The selection of a Fellow of the AGU is reserved for those individuals who have made exceptional scientific contributions and is afforded to only about one one-thousandth of the AGU membership annually. Composed of more than 50,000 members, the AGU is a non-profit, scientific association dedicated to furthering the sciences of geophysics.

Scudder was cited "for fundamental contributions to understanding the processes that control collision-less plasmas."

Plasmas -- very hot, low-density gases permeated with magnetic fields -- make up 99 percent of the universe. Scudder's work involves theoretical and experimental contributions made to the understanding of collision-less plasmas, using space-borne instrumentation, near the sun, in the regions between the planets, in the Van Allen belts and in the auroral zone of the planets. Additionally, plasmas constitute the 'working fluid' of thermonuclear reactors that may one day provide cheap energy, a research area that was the subject of his doctoral thesis. 

Before coming to the UI in 1993, he earned his doctorate in theoretical plasma physics from the University of Maryland in 1975 and served as an astrophysicist and Project Scientist while a member of the Interplanetary Physics Branch of NASA's Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics, Greenbelt, Md., from 1969 until 1993. While at NASA he was co-investigator or Principal Investigator on eight separate plasma instruments that flew in Earth orbit or traveled to Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. He also designed and oversaw completion of several space plasma instruments, including one for the Global Geospace Science Polar Satellite (launched 1996), which he worked on for 12 years after his arrival at the UI.

His most recent work involves understanding the mechanism and finding the sites in space, simulations and reactors where magnetic fields "tear" apart, a process technically known as magnetic reconnection. Such tears permit previously separated volumes of plasma to "interpenetrate," creating new magnetic highways for charged particles to intermingle. These tears enable planetary auroral forms, including the northern lights, at the Earth by allowing solar charged particles to flow through Earth's magnetic shield and into the Polar Regions. In the Polar Regions the particles excite molecules in the low atmosphere, and the molecules, in turn, radiate the familiar red and green hues of the auroral curtains. These tears also initiate dramatic changes on the sun causing energetic flares that can disrupt satellite communications. In thermonuclear reactors similar tears can cause the reactors to 'spill' their multi-million-degree contents, thus defeating attempts to generate energy.

Scudder has published over 160 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and served as principal or co-principal investigator on numerous grants and projects funded by NASA and other agencies. He has received more than a dozen group or individual special achievement awards from NASA.

Previous UI researchers receiving the designation of AGU Fellow have included: Louis A. Frank, (emeritus) James A. Van Allen - Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy; Donald A. Gurnett, James A. Van Allen - Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy; Witold F. Krajewski, Rose & Joseph Summers Professor of Water Resources Engineering, UI College of Engineering Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and the late James A. Van Allen, Regent Distinguished Professor of Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy.

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