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Alumnus wins International Dissertation Award

Dr. Colin Komar wins dissertation award.

Dr. Colin Komar, a 2015 Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, won an international dissertation award for his work while a graduate student at WVU. He won the 2017 Vincenzo Ferraro Award, given annually by the Vincent Ferraro Association.

Vincenzo Ferraro was an influential scientist in the early days of space physics. With Sidney Chapman, he realized that when the superheated “plasma” material coming out from the Sun runs into Earth’s magnetic field, it would generate a current system surrounding Earth’s magnetic field. The so-called Chapman-Ferraro currents were predicted in the 1930s. Further,
Earth’s magnetic field would buffet the material from the Sun, producing a magnetic cavity surrounding Earth. This cavity is now called the magnetosphere.

The Ferraro Association, developed by family members of Vincenzo Ferraro, seeks to recognize a “young scholar in the physics of space plasmas with particular reference to his/her doctoral thesis.” The prize is intended to “encourage studies in the field of space physics.”

Dr. Komar’s research was on how and where magnetospheric magnetic field lines break during a process called magnetic reconnection, which allows the plasma from the Sun to penetrate into the magnetosphere. He developed a new and elegant technique to find where magnetic reconnection occurs in fully three-dimensional numerical simulations of Earth’s magnetosphere. He used this approach to test models of where reconnection occurs for various conditions in interplanetary space and to test models of the rate at which reconnection occurs at the edge of the magnetosphere.

A variant of Dr. Komar’s technique was implemented into simulation resources at NASA’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC). At the CCMC, researchers can request a magnetospheric simulation to be performed for them. Now, users can request Dr. Komar’s technique to be performed for their simulations. The user then automatically is provided with
where reconnection occurs. Thus, while it was once extremely challenging to find where reconnection occurs, it is now a routine output of these simulations.

For winning the award, Dr. Komar traveled to Sorrento, Italy, in October 2017. The award comes with a 1000 Euro prize.

“We at WVU are extremely proud of Dr. Komar and all he has accomplished,” said Physics and Astronomy Associate Professor Paul Cassak, his Ph.D. adviser. “This award, in addition to the three awards he won previously, cement his stature as a bright young researcher in space

Dr. Komar is now a Postdoctoral Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.