Physics

Department Spotlight

Whitworth Researchers Collaborating in Ground Support for NASA Satellite

A satellite soon to be launched by NASA to study natural and human-induced changes to the Earth's atmosphere will be supported through a ground station run by researchers at Whitworth University and Colorado State University.

The Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) satellite will gather data that could provide an early warning of global change. The small, remote sensing and imaging spacecraft will take measurements in a region roughly 30 to 125 miles above the Earth's surface - a transitional region where many important processes are known to take place but have not been consistently measured.

Whitworth Physics Professor Lois Kieffaber and her students are collaborating with Colorado State University physics professors Biff Williams and Chiao-Yao She to operate a ground-based observatory in Platteville, Colo. The observatory is part of a chain of research stations along the Rocky Mountains that will support and augment the TIMED mission.

"We will be taking measurements that will help to calibrate the satellite systems and that also can be combined with measurements from other ground stations to produce a map of airglow activity in the night sky," Kieffaber says. "These efforts will provide a benchmark for future studies of natural and human-induced changes in this very important region of the Earth's atmosphere."

The Platteville project is an outgrowth of Kieffaber's 15-year airglow research program, which has allowed undergraduate students to make airglow observations in Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the National Solar Observatory in New Mexico and the Whitworth University Airglow Observatory 10 miles north of the Spokane campus.

Kieffaber has been principal investigator for five National Science Foundation research grants totaling $250,000 since joining the Whitworth physics department faculty in 1984. She has published two books and 28 papers and abstracts. She is also a member of the development team for a new hands-on team-taught interdisciplinary science sequence to strengthen the science preparation of elementary teachers. In 1986, she received the college's Burlington Northern Faculty Achievement Award for "unusually significant and meritorious achievement in teaching."

Kieffaber received a bachelor's degree in physics and Russian from Manchester College in 1962 and a master's in nuclear physics from Columbia University in 1963. She completed a doctorate in physics at the University of New Mexico in 1973.

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