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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 16, 2011

UI researcher wins prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award

A prestigious award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help a University of Iowa researcher to study the near-Earth solar wind that influences such phenomena as the northern lights and can interfere with satellite-based communications systems.

Gregory Howes, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) has been selected by the NSF to receive a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, effective Feb. 15. As an award recipient, Howes will receive about $1 million over the next five years.

The CAREER award is the most prestigious NSF honor for junior faculty and recognizes research and teaching excellence, as well as scholars who are likely to become future academic leaders. The awards, presented to engineers and scientists across the country, are designed to help universities attract and retain outstanding young faculty members.

Howes received his CAREER Award for the project titled "Turbulent Dissipation and Plasma Heating in the Near-Earth Solar Wind." The solar wind is composed of gusts of plasma -- electrically charged particles, or atoms that have been stripped of electrons -- that constantly flow outward from the sun. When these particles reach the Earth, some become trapped in the Earth's magnetosphere to form the Van Allen radiation belts, two donut-shaped regions that encircle the Earth.

"Although turbulent plasmas are found throughout the universe, we lack a fundamental understanding of the effect of the turbulence on the astrophysical environment," he said. "By using supercomputer simulations of the plasma turbulence in concert with spacecraft measurements of turbulence in the solar wind, we hope to unravel the complex turbulent interactions that occur.

"An improved understanding of plasma turbulence will help to answer many major unsolved questions, such as how is the solar corona heated to millions of degrees Celsius, and how does the super-massive black hole at the center of our Galaxy behave as it draws in and swallows the plasma surrounding it," he said.

His current primary research interest involves kinetic plasma turbulence, with an emphasis on high-performance computational studies of turbulence in space and astrophysical plasmas. He is also one of the lead scientists on development of the AstroGK, a mathematical code for the computer-simulated study of astrophysical plasmas.

Prior to joining the UI faculty in 2008, he was an assistant professional research astronomer in the Department of Astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley from 2004 to 2008.

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