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Reinisch Wins URSI Award

Professor Cited for Research in Ionospheric Physics

UMass Lowell Prof. Emeritus Bodo Reinisch
Prof. Emeritus Bodo Reinisch

By Edwin L. Aguirre

“It was like winning the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for the field of radio science!”

That was how Prof. Emeritus Bodo Reinisch of the Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department described the news that the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) has chosen him to receive the prestigious Appleton Prize for “outstanding contributions to studies in ionospheric physics.” 

The award will be presented during the opening ceremony of the URSI General Assembly and Scientific Symposium on Aug. 14 in Istanbul, Turkey.

The £250 Appleton Prize was first given out in 1969 by the Council of the Royal Society of London to commemorate Sir Edward Appleton, who served as president of URSI from 1934 to 1952. Once every three years, URSI selects a recipient and presents the award at the General Assembly. 

Reinisch, who was the former director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Atmospheric Research (CAR), was cited for “revolutionizing radio sounding from ground and space with development of the Digisonde and the IMAGE/RPI satellite instrument, [which are] both essential data providers for space-weather monitoring and ionospheric modeling.”

“The award made me very happy,” he says. “It is a very nice recognition of the excellent research done at the Center for Atmospheric Research.”

A Legacy of Achievements

In 2008, Reinisch received an award from NASA for his work on the Radio Plasma Imager (RPI), which was conceived and built at the Center. The instrument, designed to characterize plasma in Earth’s inner magnetosphere, was flown aboard the space agency’s highly successful IMAGE spacecraft, which operated from 2000 to 2005.

Reinisch, who was the RPI’s principal investigator, and his team from NASA’s Goddard and Marshall Space Flight Centers, Rice University and Stanford University were given a NASA Group Achievement Award for “pioneering advanced space-based radio sounding and scientific advances achieved through its innovative application to geospace science.”

The RPI collected a wealth of scientific data during its lifetime. Nearly 100 publications in refereed journals and books have used the RPI data. 

That same year, CAR researchers were awarded a $4.8 million grant by Stanford University to study Earth’s radiation belts, those regions of the magnetosphere that contain fast-moving electrons with kinetic energies of up to a million electron volts, which pose a serious threat to sensitive electronics onboard a spacecraft. The radiation belts extend from about 2,000 to 30,000 kilometers above the ground, where many communications and remote-sensing satellites are in orbit.

In late 2008, CAR scientists also received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency to expand the Center’s Digisonde Global Ionospheric Radio Observatory, or GIRO. The ionosphere, the ionized upper region of Earth’s atmosphere, is widely used for long-distance short-wave radio communications, but at the same time, it represents an obstacle to satellite signals that penetrate it.

In 2010, Reinisch founded a spin-off company, the Lowell Digisonde International, to commercially develop and manufacture a new, advanced digital ionosonde — the Digisonde-4D — for monitoring the condition of Earth’s ionosphere in real time. He aims to have a network of these ground-based ionospheric Doppler radars around the world to keep tabs on the ionosphere in the wake of solar flares, geomagnetic storms and other global space-weather disturbances.