NSF Recognizes Florida Tech Researcher as Top Young Scientist, Awards $412,000

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Ningyu Liu, Florida Institute of Technology assistant professor of physics and space sciences, has been awarded $412,801 for a duration of five years. This National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Grant is for his project “CAREER: The Plasmochemistry and Photochemistry of the Upper Atmosphere Induced by Transient Luminous Events.”

The award comes through the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, a foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty. Faculty members are chosen who exemplify the role of the teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research with the mission of their organization.

“My project will investigate the plasmo- and photo-chemical effects of the transient luminous events in the upper atmosphere,” said Liu.

Transient luminous events (TLEs) are a category of atmospheric phenomena occurring in the mesosphere/lower ionosphere, which relate to lightning activities in underlying thunderstorms. Discovered in the early 1990s, they are now called sprites, blue jets, gigantic jets or elves.

“Intensive research has been conducted to understand the origin of TLEs and their impacts in the Earth’s atmosphere,” said Liu.

In his new five-year project, Liu and his team will conduct modeling and observational research to reveal the pathways of various disturbances introduced by TLEs in the atmosphere. The outcomes will help researchers understand how the atmosphere responds when impacted by short, impulsive, external forces and also will advance the understanding of the role of lightning in the atmosphere. Florida Tech lightning research, which is led by professors Joseph Dwyer, Hamid Rassoul and Liu, continues to be an active and well-funded research program at the university.

In 2009 Liu received an NSF grant of $240,000 to investigate how lightning is sparked in thunderclouds. For this research he and his team have developed advanced physics-based computer simulation models of the thunderstorm environment.

Liu earned a doctoral degree from the Pennsylvania State University and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Zhejiang University in China—all in electrical engineering.

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