The McDermott Professorships were established in August 2017, funded by an anonymous gift, with the goal of providing early career support and recognition to faculty members who have established extraordinary records of research productivity, teaching excellence and university service, and who show promise of being leaders of the UT Dallas faculty in the future.
Chen studies “space weather” in a dynamic region called the magnetosphere, located between the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun.
The magnetosphere consists of highly energetic charged particles, which can damage electronics on spacecraft or can be dangerous to astronauts. So, it’s very valuable to predict the dynamics of those energetic charged particles. My research focuses on using numerical models to better understand and predict the dynamics and variability of charged particles, as well as the magnetosphere in general.
Dr. Lunjin Chen studies “space weather” in a dynamic region called the magnetosphere, located between the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun.
Beginning several hundred miles above the Earth’s surface and extending tens of thousands of miles into space, the magnetosphere acts like a giant magnetic envelope surrounding our planet. It contains the Earth’s magnetic field, which is generated by the motion of iron alloys in the planet’s core.
The magnetosphere protects the planet’s surface by deflecting harmful charged particles that originate from the sun and other sources outside our solar system. Without it, those particles would strip away our atmosphere.
“In the magnetosphere, there are a lot of energetic particles, for example, electrons that are trapped and moving at close to the speed of light,” said Chen, a faculty member in UT Dallas’ William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences. “Understanding the dynamics of the region is important because energetic electrons the magnetosphere can pose a danger to astronauts in Earth orbit and to the electronics on satellites,” including communications and GPS navigation satellites.
In 2016, Chen received a grant from the Air Force’s Young Investigator Research Program to support his research into how energetic electrons interact with electromagnetic waves in the magnetosphere. His other honors include a 2014 Young Scientist Award from the International Union of Radio Science.
“UT Dallas provided a great startup package, ranging from graduate student support and office space availability to proposal guidance, which has helped build my research team from scratch,” Chen said. His research team actively conducts various research projects sponsored by federal agencies.
In addition to directing his research program, Chen teaches both undergraduate and graduate-level courses.
“On one hand, teaching undergraduate physics is more about making physical concepts clear and easy to understand,” he said. “On the other hand, mentoring graduate students involves training them to be independent, skillful and motivated researchers.”
Before joining the UT Dallas faculty in 2013, Chen was an assistant researcher in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned a PhD in space physics. He received a bachelor’s degree in geophysics and a master’s degree in space physics from the University of Science and Technology of China.