7.1 Upper Atmosphere and Space Weather Education

Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 3:30 PM
4C-3 (Washington State Convention Center)
C. Russell Philbrick, North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC

The field of study that encompasses the upper atmosphere and space weather has many opportunities to bring students to the state of being true learners in the sciences by sparking their interests in many topics. I have found that the most valuable training for a student is to become a curious observer about a subject, and so have used that theme as the focus for each class taught. Two major advantages exist when educating students in the space sciences. First, the processes going on in the edge of space, and deeper into it, are fresh and fascinating to the student, and they can be described or demonstrated using data from many past space research activities. Second, in this region, the physical and chemical processes are relatively simple and straight forward to observe because they often involve a single, or just a few, physical laws or chemical processes acting at the same time. Teaching an introductory course in space physics during 20+ years at Penn State University has convinced me that some of the best opportunities for helping students to become life-long learners result from helping them become curious observers of the world around them. A student's imagination is stimulated and they find opportunities to understand such topics as: (1) the principals electromagnetic theory when applying Maxwell's equations to describe the particles and fields in the ionosphere, plasmasphere, and magnetosphere; (2) the chemical processes resulting in the formation atomic oxygen and ozone in the mesosphere, as well as the importance of these and other species in controlling the ultraviolet radiation flux reaching the Earth's surface; and (3) the dynamics of gravity waves and planetary waves, which produce the sources of turbulent mixing in the lower atmosphere and finally allow diffusive separation of species to occur in the thermosphere, and all the while dynamical processes determine the temperature structure of the middle atmosphere through basic thermodynamic processes. A vision of the potential for exciting career opportunities which lead to discovery at the frontiers of science and engineering often attracts students, and most of them appear to have become curious observers and learners for a lifetime.
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