Faculty Explore Mystery of Lightning Origin in Thunderclouds

MELBOURNE, FLA. — How lightning is sparked in thunderclouds remains a mystery. Ningyu Liu, Florida Institute of Technology assistant professor of physics and
space sciences, seeks to solve that mystery under a $240,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Liu and his team, which includes Florida Tech Professors Joseph Dwyer and Hamid Rassoul and graduate student Burcu Kosar, will develop advanced
physics-based computer simulation models of the thunderstorm environment. Their research will focus on the role that rain droplets and ice particles may
play in lightning initiation inside thunderclouds. By comparing theory with field observations, the goal will be to understand the exact physical
mechanisms of the lightning initiation process.

“We will investigate one of the very promising theories to explain lightning production and we believe that our results could have a large impact in this
field of study,” said Dwyer. An international expert in lightning and energetic radiation from thunderclouds, Dwyer’s studies of the phenomenon of runaway
breakdown, associated with lightning, proved that x-rays could be created from sparks in the laboratory.

Lightning research continues to be an active and well-funded research program at the university.

This grant brings external funding just for January to $674,000 for Florida Tech’s Department of Physics and Space Sciences. Another faculty member
received a $434,000 NASA grant for studies of the heliosphere.

Florida Tech grants bachelor’s degrees in physics, pre-professional physics, space sciences, with options in solar, Earth, and planetary, astronomy and
astrophysics, and astrobiology, and master’s and doctoral degrees in physics or space sciences.

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