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The Benedum Distinguished Scholars Awards, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, are awarded annually to faculty engaged in “creative research” in as many as four categories: behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology.

WVU Physics and Astronomy Associate Professor, Weichao Tu, was named a 2022-23 Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Physical Science and Technologies. Weichao Tu

Tu will be honored during the 2024 Benedum Distinguished Scholars Showcase, scheduled for April 9, 2024 at 7:00 PM in the Gladys G. Davis Theater in the WVU Creative Arts Center. Her talk is titled "The Invisible Doughnuts: The Secrets and Challenges of the Van Allen Radiation Belts" .

The showcase event is modeled after the Emmy-award winning series “Inside the Actors Studio” by James Lipton and highlights each honoree with short videos, a live panel discussion and a moderated Q&A session.

This celebration will be an in-person event at the Gladys G. Davis Theatre of the WVU Creative Arts Center. A livestreaming option will also be available to accommodate an extended virtual audience. All audiences are welcome to attend.

Tu is recognized nationally and internationally for her creative development of new and comprehensive models of radiation belt particle dynamics. As a space physicist, Tu has focused on understanding, modeling and predicting the dynamics of energetic “killer” electrons in the Earth’s radiation belts. 

She created the first three-dimensional diffusion model that reproduces the strong enhancement of outer belt electrons during a geomagnetic storm. The model is the first of its kind to incorporate real-time information on the physical processes and thus accurately model the radiation belt enhancement. In addition, Tu has developed the first model to account for radiation belt dropouts and newly discovered loss processes due to anomalous geometrics of Earth’s magnetic fields. Understanding these electrons and processes are crucial in reducing the hazardous radiative environment within which spacecrafts and communication satellites currently operate.

She has been recognized with a National Science Foundation Career Award — the most prestigious NSF award for early-career faculty, a Cottrell Scholar Award and the Katherine E. Weimer Award from the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics. She has secured $5.37 million of funding and authored 25 publications in the past seven years. Tu has also given 32 invited talks and seminars at various international conferences and institutes. 

In addition, she created a space science learning module in collaboration with the West Virginia Science Public Outreach Team, and it has been disseminated statewide to increase space science knowledge and interest among Appalachian middle school students.