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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Studying topics as varied as space science to sustainability, four West Virginia University researchers have been named Faculty Early Career Development Program award winners by the National Science Foundation.

The award is considered the most elite from the NSF that supports junior faculty.

The 2024 WVU CAREER award recipients are Katy Goodrich, of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and Margaret BennewitzKevin Orner and Oishi Sanyal, all of the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

This year’s awards amount to $2.9 million, totaling nearly $25 million WVU awardees have brought in from the program since 1997. Overall, 52 University faculty have received the award.

“The dedication of our faculty to conduct the highest levels of research never ceases to amaze me,” said Vice President for Research Fred King. “These four individuals are a testament to our standing as an R1 university. Not only will their research propel their careers, but it will have an impact on society as a whole.”

Katy Goodrich, assistant professor of space physics, said she believes her research project will make space science more accessible to institutions with limited resources. For her project, she’ll design a CubeSat, or miniature satellite, mission to study the Earth’s auroral acceleration region.     
Katy Goodrich

“This region is an extremely interesting place in the Earth’s magnetosphere where energy in magnetic and electric fields are converted to particle energy,” Goodrich said. “We would be using this opportunity to develop electric field instruments for CubeSats, which hasn’t been done successfully for the magnetosphere before.”

An intended outcome is to create resources for scientists to use in studying space.

“As it stands, if you want to measure electric fields in space, you need to be affiliated with large-scale, well-funded missions and institutions,” she said. “Not everyone has access to such opportunities or funds, and that limits the science you can do. This work will help make all space measurements more accessible.”

Both WVU and high school students will participate in the project. Goodrich will also collaborate with Upward Bound in which high schoolers will be able to develop code to examine space satellite measurements and assist in testing procedures.

“Space science utilizes satellites to measure plasma in space,” Goodrich added. “But we are trending more and more toward small satellites or CubeSat-type satellites at a pace where some of our scientific instruments can’t keep up. Electric field instruments have been very hard to adapt to smaller satellites. This puts them at risk of being underused, which will limit our ability to measure all components of space plasma. This work will aim to bridge that gap and ensure electric field instruments can be utilized for all space missions and will not limit our measurements in the future.”

Goodrich's research interests include microphysics of collisionless shocks in space, structures that arise from plasma turbulence, and wave-particle interactions in various space environments. She also works to develop instrumentation and data analysis techniques to measure electric fields in space. She currently works with the NASA funded missions Magnetospheric Multi-scale (MMS) and Parker Solar Probe (PSP).



MEDIA CONTACT: Micaela Morrissette
Research Writer
WVU Research Communications