Montana State University

Graduate Student Profiles

Adam
2013 Ph.D. Candidate

Currently at
Montana State University
Sabrina
2010 Alumnus

Currently at
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
Henry
2009 Alumnus

Currently at
Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics
Jonathan
2005 Alumnus

Currently at
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Adam Kobelski

Adam Kobelski

Hometown: Richland, WA

Education:
   B.S. in Physics from University of Washington, WA
   Ph.D. in Physics from Montana State University,
         Bozeman, MT, 2013 (tentative)

Q.Why did you choose MSU for your graduate studies?
A.My grandfather went to MSU in the 50s, so I applied. I felt very welcome during visitation, something I didn't get with other departments. The faculty treated me well and with interest, and the staff (Margaret especially!) was incredibly nice and helpful. I felt like I belonged and was wanted. The mountains helped a lot, too. It is nice being able to easily spend time outdoors before and after a full day of work.
Q.What do you feel was the biggest advantage about your experience at MSU?
A. The solar physics group at MSU is very well connected and respected within the international community of solar physics. It is easy to build working relationships with groups from around the world from Montana. The connections made during conferences and by taking part in satellite operations help make me feel like part of the larger solar physics community, not just part of the local department. The faculty here really are at the top of the game. They make up-to-date knowledge on current topics incredibly accessible. It is difficult to find current research in solar physics that does not at least reference work by the faculty here. Best of all is that the faculty are very approachable and willing to assist graduate students. Not only can many answers be found here, but the questions are easy to ask.
Q.What specifically did you study at MSU?
A.I currently work on developing uncertainty calibrations for the X-Ray Telescope on board the Hinode satellite, trying to estimate the errors in the photometry. This allows us to better understand the reliability of observations made. I also am working to understand the mechanisms of solar flare cooling. I am trying to better determine the size of flaring loops as observed in the solar corona, which helps to build better models to predict solar activity and thus space weather. While the TRACE instrument was still in operation, I worked as a chief observer for the satellite, determining where and how the telescope should observe.
Q.What are you doing now?
A.Beyond what was previously mentioned, I am a chief observer of the X-Ray Telescope on Hinode, determining what the telescope will observe from the EPS building here in Bozeman.
Q.What advice do you have for someone starting his or her Ph.D. in solar physics at MSU?
A.The main downside to getting a Ph.D. at MSU is having to leave MSU when you graduate.

Sabrina Savage

Sabrina Savage

Hometown: Mobile, AL

Education:
   B.S. in Physics from the University of South Alabama,
         Mobile, AL, 2002
   M.S. in Physics & Astronomy from the University of Wyoming,
         Laramie, WY, 2004
   Ph.D. in Physics from Montana State University,
         Bozeman, MT, 2010

Q.Why did you choose MSU for your graduate studies?
A.

After receiving my Masters degree, I was looking to change institutions. I knew several graduate students in the MSU physics department who were rather content with their classes, research opportunities, and living conditions in general. I was encouraged to look into the possibility of transferring to MSU and ended up taking this advice because of the diverse projects available. In particular, I wanted to continue with research oriented towards astronomy and was pleasantly surprised to discover an internationally renowned solar physics group at MSU.

I had never intended to go into solar physics; however, it didn't take long to realize how current and relevant the solar research topics being studied within the group are. Plus, having a background in using large telescopes, I was keen to continue with hands-on observational research. After learning that there were such opportunities within the department, choosing MSU to continue with my education was not difficult. Plus, the faculty were extremely welcoming, positive, and readily offered themselves as a resource, and you really cannot beat the location. Bozeman is a wonderfully small (although growing!) town with such a positive atmosphere nestled amongst mountains on all sides -- it's hard to pass up.

Q.What do you feel was the biggest advantage about your experience at MSU?
A.The most important thing for me when I decided to go for my Ph.D. was that I be able to perform observational research. I wanted to have a close connection to the objects that I would be studying by fully understanding how the data was obtained and processed. In fact, I decided on my research advisor while taking an observational astronomy course from him (Dr. David McKenzie). While there are currently no ground-based solar observatories associated with MSU, Dr. McKenzie is a collaborator for a number of solar satellite missions, and I was eventually given the extremely rewarding task of commanding a telescope aboard one of these satellites (Hinode XRT). Besides the educational benefit from satellite telescope operations, I was also afforded the opportunity to travel abroad to meet and work with colleagues around the world. Building connections within the scientific community while a student provides a huge advantage for finding employment and research interests post graduation. Plus, I had no shortage of data to use for my research as well as ample well-maintained computing resources. MSU has access to all available solar data and there is no shortage of expertise within the group to help students use and interpret the various types of data.
Q.What specifically did you study at MSU?
A.My dissertation involved studying observational evidence of magnetic reconnection above solar flares. Understanding the energy release mechanisms associated with solar flares is a hot solar research topic because we are directly affected by solar storms -- especially as our reliance on satellites for communication increases. Those satellites must be warned about energetic flares in order to protect them from large fluxes of damaging particles. Large power grids on Earth can also be disrupted by these storms. Additionally, the Sun's outer corona is thought to be heated by magnetic reconnection, so studying the mechanism directly under flaring conditions helps us to constrain theoretical models which can then be applied to models of other stars and reconnection phenomena in the Earth's own magnetosphere.
Q.What are you doing now?
A. After completing a NASA post-doctoral fellowship at Goddard Space Flight Center extending my dissertation research into higher energy wavelengths predominantly using RHESSI's hard X-ray capabilities, I have been fortunate enough to move on to a civil service position at Marshall Space Flight Center. While continuing my coronal solar flare studies, I am also working with Dr. Jonathan Cirtain as Deputy Project Scientist for the Hinode mission and participating in the development of new solar monitoring instrumentation.
Q.What advice do you have for someone starting his or her Ph.D. in solar physics at MSU?
A.There are several different opportunities within the solar group from instrumentation, to observing, to theory. My advice would be to seek out the faculty doing the sort of research you are interested in for starters, but keep in mind that students often do not stick with their original interests. So I would highly recommend asking if you could sit in at least a few weeks of sub-group meetings in order to get a feel for the atmosphere of those groups. You could be working with those folks for several years, so make sure you would feel comfortable working closely with them and that you would be in a group to which you feel you could contribute. And of course, go to the weekly solar journal club because that is where you will learn the jargon and the current research topics to get you on track.

Henry "Trae" Winter III

Henry Winter

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Education:
   B.S. from University of Memphis, TN;
   Ph.D. from Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, 2009

Q.Why did you choose MSU for your graduate studies?
A.I chose MSU because it had the best overall Solar Physics program of any U.S. university. I had chosen solar astrophysics as a career before applying to graduate schools, and MSU had the largest number of top tier solar physics faculty of any university that I researched. MSU also had a good blend of faculty and staff participating in theoretical, hands on satellite operations, and instrumentation building and design.
Q.What do you feel was the biggest advantage about your experience at MSU?
A.As a MSU graduate student I got to participate in two solar satellite missions; Yohkoh a joint mission with Japanese, American, and British instruments onboard, and TRACE a NASA high-resolution solar imager. Few students at top tier universities get to have hands-on experience with one satellite mission, let alone two. Currently MSU is a part of the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) team. The AIA telescope is a key part of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is the newest and most exciting of NASA's solar missions.
Q.What specifically did you study at MSU?
A.While spending part of my time as an operations planner for the TRACE satellite and part of my time as a manager of the Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT), I also made a series of numerical models to simulate solar flares. Solar flares are the largest explosions in our solar system and can affect the space weather at earth. Currently, scientists still don't understand many of the basic principles that govern how and why solar flares erupt. Since the conditions that lead to solar flares are too extreme for any lab to recreate, numerical simulations are the one of the best ways to test our theories about these eruptive events.
Q.What are you doing now?
A.I am currently an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I am continuing the research I began at MSU as well as designing new computer infrastructure to handle our future simulation needs as well as participating in teams that are designing the next generation of solar missions.
Q.What advice do you have for someone starting his or her Ph.D. in solar physics at MSU?
A.Concentrate on your classes and get to know your professors during your first year or two. There are plenty of high quality research projects. Finding a good research position that fits with your goals should not be difficult.

Jonathan Cirtain

Jonathan Cirtain

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Education:
   B.S. in Physics and Mathematics from University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 2001
   Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, 2005

Q.Why did you choose MSU for your graduate studies?
A.MSU was the only University program that offered spacecraft and instrumentation operations opportunities for solar physics. The possibility of operating an instrument in orbit as well as the opportunity to work with world-renowned solar physicists was a very compelling recruitment strategy.
Q.What do you feel was the biggest advantage about your experience at MSU?
A.Being able to gain experience with the operations of the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) really offered my exposure to the community, taught me to collect useful science data, and exposed me to the details of instrument operations. I have used all of these aspects of my graduate school experience to my advantage since leaving grad school.
Q.What specifically did you study at MSU?
A.Solar Physics. I am now a solar astrophysicist and I learned most of what I know from the Professors at MSU.
Q.What are you doing now?
A.I am the Chief of the Solar Physics Group at Marshall Space Flight Center/NASA. I am the Principal Investigator on three sounding rocket programs and I am the Project Scientist on Hinode (a NASA/Japanese Space Agency solar observatory).
Q.What advice do you have for someone starting his or her Ph.D. in solar physics at MSU?
A.Take the time the first year to work very hard solidifying the core course work and preparing for the comprehensive exam. Then talk with each of the professors, multiple times if needed, and find a Ph.D. research topic you find compelling and worth spending a career working to solve.

See a list of solar physics alumni.

If you have any comments, please contact www@solar.physics.montana.edu