Graduate Program in Physics with Specialization in Space Physics and Instrumentation

Research Areas

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Space Flight Instrumentation


The Space Science and Engineering Division at SwRI, through new patents and innovations, is known globally for its expertise in the development and operation of plasma instruments for satellite missions, cubesats, and rocket campaigns. SwRI has been involved with numerous NASA and ESA space flight instruments and missions such as IMAGE, New Horizons, ACE, Ulysses, STEREO, TWINS, SWIFT, IBEX, MMS, Van Allen Probes, Cassini, GREECE, Juno, Rosetta, and LRO along with future missions such as Solar Probe Plus, Solar Orbiter, JUICE, BepiColumbo, CYGNSS mission, Europa Mission, and cubesat missions such as CeREs and CuSPP+. Students in the Graduate Program in Space Physics have the opportunity to both work with the data returned from satellite missions as well as the instrumentation needed [...]

Space Flight Instrumentation2020-09-21T14:47:33+00:00

Solar & Heliospheric Physics


Solar & Heliospheric physics encompasses the study of the sun from its inner core to the hot, tenuous solar corona, and the space dominated by the sun's magnetic field, as well as phenomena racing through interplanetary space like coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and co-rotating interaction regions (CIRs). Research at SwRI to study the sun and the interplanetary medium contained within the sphere of the sun's influence (known as the heliosphere) involves several spacecraft missions, including Ulysses, Wind, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), and the Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission. SwRI also serves as the PI institution [...]

Solar & Heliospheric Physics2020-09-21T15:06:07+00:00

Planetary Science


Planetary science is a multifaceted area of study that seeks to answer basic, but profoundly important, questions such as how planets form, how planets evolve over time, and why at least one planet harbors life. Research in planetary science includes understanding the beginnings of our Solar System through the formation and internal structure of the planets; understanding the various planetary environments in our Solar System and potential habitability of the planets and moons; and understanding processes of different planetary atmospheres and surfaces to better understand planetary evolution on Earth and beyond to newly found exoplanets. SwRI [...]

Planetary Science2020-09-21T15:02:25+00:00

Magnetospheric Physics


Magnetospheric research at SwRI focuses on the region of space dominated by the Earth's magnetic field. Further understanding the dynamics of the Earth's magnetosphere provides insight into the relationship between the Sun and Earth. Magnetospheric research conducted at SwRI includes: determining the the variation of oxygen in the plasmasphere and outer magnetosphere, understanding magnetic reconnection with direct observations of ions at reconnection sites, investigating the coupling between electric fields and currents in the magnetosphere during geomagnetic storms, and analyzing plasma precipitation into Earth's atmosphere. SwRI leads the field of magnetospheric physics through its involvement and development [...]

Magnetospheric Physics2020-09-21T14:58:59+00:00

Ionospheric Physics


The ionosphere of Earth is the layer of ionized atmosphere above the stratosphere that extends into space. This layer is important for dynamics that can affect the atmosphere below as well as out in the magnetosphere. Ionospheric research at SwRI focuses on both in-situ and remote sensing techniques for investigating the physics of the near-Earth plasma in the ionosphere and magnetosphere. Current research topics include: instrument development for sounding rocket and satellite payloads such as GREECE, ground-based auroral imaging and photometry, incoherent scatter radar observations from multiple sites around the world. Radar and optical observations of meteors [...]

Ionospheric Physics2020-09-21T14:53:31+00:00

Cometary Physics


Comets can provide an incredible amount of information on the origin and evolution of the Solar System. The composition of comets contain pristine records of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and the planets of the Solar System formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. Comets may also play a key role in the evolution of the planets, possibly supplying the Earth with water and complex organic molecules during the early, chaotic stages of the Solar System. SwRI is one of the international partners on the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to analyze in-depth the [...]

Cometary Physics2020-09-21T14:51:25+00:00

Atmospheric Physics


The study of atmospheric physics has the potential to unlock the mysteries of large storms and improve meteorological predictions. SwRI is a large partner on the CYGNSS mission which has the aim of furthering our understanding of hurricane prediction. To do this, CYGNSS studies back scatter of GPS signals off the surface of the ocean near hurricanes. This information can then be used to better our understanding of how storms strengthen, and better our models for storm intensity. Alumni in Research Area Austin Egert Joseph Westlake

Atmospheric Physics2020-09-21T14:49:40+00:00



Astrophysical research at SwRI focuses on observational, experimental, and computational projects that are tied to the study of the death of massive stars, specifically core-collapse supernovae (SNe) and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Current research topics include: bolometric properties of core-collapse SNe; X-ray, UV, and optical flaring in GRBs; numerical simulations of the transition region between Type IIb and Ib SNe; UV behavior of Type IIn SNe and its implications for the ejected shell; and utilization of SNe and GRBs as cosmological probes, particularly at high redshift. Wavebands of study span from the near-IR to the X-ray, with [...]


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