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Research partner with NASA

Partnership with NASA and other space agencies opens doors for students

Want to work with NASA? Just come to UNB Fredericton.

Thanks to the groundbreaking research and expertise of faculty members, students have the chance to work directly with NASA analyzing research into the atmosphere.

“You get under the supervision of a couple of these people – they’ve been in the game so long and they know so many people. It’s opened a lot of doors,” said Ryan White, a graduate student at UNB.

White, who is from the United States, works primarily with data from satellites operated by the European Space Agency. In his three years at UNB, he has had the opportunity to publish papers, travel and collaborate with space agencies around the world, including NASA.

“There’s a lot of expertise here. Some of these professors are very well known around the world in their area of research. In the United States, you just don’t get that.”

NASA partnership thanks to former PhD student

Dr. Richard Langley, a professor with the department of geodesy and geomatics engineering at UNB, said the collaboration between UNB and NASA began with one of his former PhD students.

Attila Komjathy joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., about 15 years ago. Komjathy expressed an interest in having a stronger relationship with UNB, and eventually became an adjunct professor within the geodesy and geomatics engineering department.

“One of the projects that we are working on together is analysis of data from my project on the CASSIOPE satellite,” said Langley.

“I didn’t have man power or funding to do as much of the work as we would like to do with the data that was coming down, and so I asked Attila if he would be interested.”

UNB research on Canadian satellites

The Canadian satellite CASSIOPE features an instrument called GPS Attitude, Positioning, and Profiling, which was designed at UNB. The team collects data from the tool’s five GPS receivers to accurately position the satellite and to study irregularities in the ionosphere.

The weather in space can affect life on earth, specifically radio communications and satellite signals, Langley said – and monitoring this data could eventually be used as a tsunami early warning system.

“One of the more interesting things that we can do is look at how the electrons get moved around by earthquakes and tsunamis and big explosions on the ground. The energy that’s released in those events actually propagates up through the bottom part of the atmosphere, all the way up to the ionosphere, and jiggles around the electrons.”

Even when the tsunami is mid-ocean, the ionosphere is being affected. Although the tsunami wave would be small at that point, it would be spread over a large mass of water, pumping energy into the atmosphere.

“We can actually follow the tsunami across the ocean. With advanced notice people can get to higher ground,” he said.

Opening doors for students

Langley said the chance to work with seasoned professionals is a huge draw for students – and the partnership has been beneficial for both UNB and for NASA.

NASA management is proud of the collaboration with the university, Langley said, highlighting the activity as an important venture and presenting it at industry conferences.

And White will tell you, it’s an experience he never dreamed would come true.

“My co-supervisor, Attila, works for JPL, the NASA facility operated by Caltech. Just to have that sort of communication with him and know that at some point, at least if I prove myself, I could potentially have a job working with NASA, it’s really neat."

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