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Photo of Kathie L. Olsen
Credit: Sam Kittner/kittner.com

Dr. Kathie L. Olsen
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

"National Science Foundation: Pioneering Space Weather Research"

Space Weather Enterprise Forum
National Air & Space Museum
Washington, DC

April 4, 2007

[Slide #1: Title Slide]
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Good evening. What an appropriate place to talk about the grand scientific explorations of the Sun, and how its vast storms influence the Earth.

The realm of space weather technically starts at the Sun and ends in our upper atmosphere--on the far side of the clouds depicted in this picture. But in reality, solar eruptions and solar storms affect our entire atmosphere--and sometimes disrupt the high-tech operations of our society.

[Slide #2: NSF: the other space weather agency]
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You've been hearing today about the activities of NOAA and NASA. The National Science Foundation is the other federal agency that plays a critical role in space weather research and education.

NSF supports the national goal of providing timely and accurate observations and forecasts of solar activity and its impact on Earth.

Just a decade ago, NSF was a pioneer in developing the fundamental science of space weather. We can credit Rich Behnke, Bob Robinson, and their colleagues for this, and for their dedication to working with other agencies to understand the Sun and its effects. They are here tonight.

They laid out the history of the field in an excellent paper published by AGU Space Weather Journal in 2001--titled "The National Space Weather Program: a Retrospective Look." I read it as background for my talk today, and I was fascinated all over again by this exciting field.

I also want to thank Larry Zanetti of the Applied Physics Lab for inviting me to participate today. Larry visits the Foundation regularly to coordinate on space weather science programs.

[Slide #3: Transformative Research & Education (animation of NSF fields of support)]
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First, a few words about who we are, and what we do.

NSF is where discoveries begin. We support fundamental research and education in all fields of science and engineering, often at the high-risk frontiers.

The agency has a long record of investments in transformative research. Many of them have led to innovations that moved society in completely new directions.

The investigations are conducted primarily at U.S. colleges, universities and scientific institutes. We rely on their researchers to help us identify priorities for federal investment. We are "bottoms-up"--and we use merit review.

We integrate education into the research enterprise. Through our education initiatives, we help train the future workforce and bring science into classrooms and museums across the United States.

[Slide #4: Fundamental Research]
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I'll say just a few words about our investments in fundamental research and facilities.

[Slide #5: Space Weather and Space Physics at NSF]
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NSF has helped launch 150 new space weather and space physics projects since 1996.

Some of the programs we sponsor are shown here. Together, these programs provide fundamental knowledge about the composition of the Sun and activity in the region between the surface of the Sun and Earth's atmosphere.

Our support of Upper Atmospheric Facilities is critical to the nation's space weather enterprise. The Foundation is the primary source of support for five major observatories and a center for sophisticated modeling.

[Slide #6: National Solar Observatory]
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Although it's in plain sight, the Sun hides many secrets beneath the corona at its outer atmosphere, which burns at millions of degrees.

At the NSF-sponsored National Solar Observatory, the mission is to learn as much as possible about the Sun--as a star that can tell us about the lives of other stars, and as the dominant external influence on Earth.

NSO conducts pioneering research and operates ground-based solar facilities. These facilities are used by a cross-section of the research community. The one shown here is the Evans Facility on Sacramento Peak, California.

[Slide #7: Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar]
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Just three months ago, this pioneering radar, funded by NSF, began operating near Fairbanks, Alaska. It is the most comprehensive ground-based tool ever built for measuring characteristics of the Earth's ionosphere and upper atmosphere.

This radar is the first of its kind capable of steering instantly in different directions. It is also modular, which makes it possible to take it apart and move it to different locations.

It's also a great teaching tool! Students can turn it on and operate it remotely through the Internet.

[Slide #8: National Center for Atmospheric Research]
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Our understanding of space weather would not be complete without the knowledge streaming from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR. This center is supported by NSF and is located in Boulder, Colorado.

This is comparable to NASA's support of JPL and NOAA's support of the Princeton Lab.

NCAR has a comprehensive program, ranging from a solar observatory ... to climate studies ... to space weather science. This holistic approach gives NCAR the ability to make vast connections across all of these dimensions.

[Slide #9: TIDI Model (animation still)]
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These images from NCAR are a model of the powerful winds in our upper atmosphere, which are driven by solar radiation. This model is based in part on data from the TIDI instrument funded by NASA and operated by the University of Michigan.

NCAR studies the Sun to learn more about how the Sun affects our planet and its atmosphere (the subject of space weather science). NCAR also takes a close look at how our own climate is changing, and what role the Sun plays in those changes.

[Slide #10: Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling]
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The simulation shown here in blue was generated by a supercomputer, to show how a storm of plasma is ejected from the Sun into space. The green model is a 3-D visualization of how that storm propagates through space to reach Earth.

These are products of the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling at Boston University, an NSF Science and Technology Center. These pioneering research and education centers are operated by consortia of multiple universities. They often have partners from industry and other agencies.

The mission of this modeling center is to understand how the Sun-Earth system affects our lives and work. Its goal is to create physics-based models that describe that system.

[Slide #11: Interagency and International Collaboration]
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Now, a few words about our interagency and international work.

[Slide #12: National Space Weather Program]
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NSF, in cooperation with other federal agencies, launched the National Space Weather Program to observe and forecast solar events that could affect Earth-based technology.

Solar emissions and solar storms generate powerful magnetic and electrical fields that can disrupt the performance of technologies we depend on, from satellites to communications equipment to power grids.

Finding out that a hurricane is bearing down on you isn't very helpful if the warning only gives you an hour to prepare. That's the situation we're in now with space weather. Being able to determine the structure of solar emissions and solar wind at their source--the Sun--will give us the lead time we need to make predictions truly useful.

The images shown depict the most accurate computer simulation ever made of the Sun's corona during an eclipse. The pioneering research that produced these images was funded by NSF and NASA, and marked the beginning of a new era in space weather prediction.

This work successfully confirmed that computer models could accurately describe the physics of the Sun's corona.

[Slide #13: Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate]
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Observations from satellites complement those taken from the ground. We are all familiar with the data we get from SOHO, STEREO, and ACE.

NSF, along with other U.S. agencies, is funding and operating this project with Taiwan--one of the few projects in which NSF is involved with a research platform in space.

COSMIC is a network of six satellites that went into orbit in 2006.

This is the first system that provides daily atmospheric data, in real time, from thousands of locations above the Earth.

COSMIC's measurements will help meteorologists observe and forecast weather and climate trends. This information will also improve the forecasting of space weather events that could potentially interfere with technology here on Earth.

[Slide #14: Education and Training]
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One of the most important things NSF does is integrate research and education--and train the next generation of scientists and engineers.

[Slide #15: At NSF, Education Matters!]
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We support institutions in making degree programs more relevant to the workforce, by integrating new and emerging fields.

These two young ladies are the first graduates of a new Masters Degree program in space science, at Alabama A&M University. They both plan to go for a Ph.D.!

We also support faculty as they begin their careers. NSF's space weather program funded the establishment of tenure track positions in space physics at eight universities. We believe that a qualified and diverse pool of faculty is essential for attracting the diversity of students that science and engineering.

These students will be the ones who make the future breakthroughs in space weather!

[Slide #16: Summer Programs in Space Weather]
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The integration of research and education is a theme that we apply at all levels of learning.

The Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling conducts a summer school to introduce graduate students to space weather modeling. The students get hands-on experience in building models that observe and predict activity in the space environment.

The NSF REU program--Research Experiences for Undergraduates--introduces students to hands-on research and discovery during their undergraduate days. We sponsor at least seven REU programs in space weather, from Alabama to Alaska.

The picture on the right is from the REU program in space physics at Prairie View A&M University, in Texas. This is a Historically Black University. This program allows us to encourage students from traditionally underrepresented populations to consider a career in science and engineering.

[Slide #17: "Solar Max" (IMAX film clip)]
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We also fund informal science education, such as this IMAX movie, SOLAR MAX.

You may have seen some of the other IMAX movies that we funded. One of them was "Cosmic Voyage." Many of these have been shown right here in this theatre.

Also, NSF co-sponsored an exhibit down the hall, on "Explore the Universe."

These projects serve the dual purpose of enticing the nation's youth to study science and engineering, and educating the public about subjects such as the Sun, Earth, and stars.

[Slide #18: "Mark Trail" (comic strip episode space weather)]
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Here's a really good way to educate the public. I hope everyone saw this in Sunday's Washington Post. It accurately addresses the issues and importance of space weather.

The last frame says: "The Space Weather Enterprise Forum is meeting in Washington, DC, this month to address the many concerns!" NOAA helped get this subject into the comic strip.

[Slide #19: Planning for the Future]
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I've addressed just a few of the exciting programs in space weather. Now let's take a peek over the horizon.

[Slide #20: On the Horizon: Potential Research Facilities]
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NSF relies on the science and engineering community to help identify priorities for the future, including transformative facilities needed to conduct frontier research.

These are some of the facilities that the community has identified as important for advancing space weather science. Because of the grand scope and scale of these instruments, each is being conceptualized, designed, or planned by a team from multiple institutions.

Ten institutions in the U.S. and Europe are involved in the planning for a Frequency-Agile Solar Radiotelescope, or FASR. More than 20 institutions are exploring the possibilities for an Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. They envision the largest, most capable solar telescope in the world.

[Slide 21: Small Satellites: Research and Learning]
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On the other end of the scale are small satellites, which promise an exciting future for both research and learning. NSF will host a workshop on May 15-17, 2007, to explore the possibilities for using small satellites for space weather and atmospheric research. We are talking with NASA about this.

In the CubeSat program, students design and build miniature satellites. These satellites are only 10 centimeters on a side! Over 60 universities are participating in CubeSat, and one high school--the Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology, here in Annandale, Virginia.

[Slide #22: Quotation from Francis Thompson]
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This has been a whirlwind tour of just a few of the programs at NSF, where discoveries begin--and where the results have the potential to transform our lives.

The 19th century poet Francis Thompson described the concept that all things, near and far, are interconnected. Nowhere is that more powerfully evident than in the realm of space weather.

Thank you for coming to learn more about this pioneering area of research and education, and for the grand time we've had together.



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