Space research fulfils ambition

Doors into collaborative space research are opening these days  for Dunedin physicist Associate Prof Craig Rodger, who was once inspired by Star Trek. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Doors into collaborative space research are opening these days for Dunedin physicist Associate Prof Craig Rodger, who was once inspired by Star Trek. Photo by Craig Baxter.

University of Otago physicist Associate Prof Craig Rodger still vividly remembers, as a first-year student, standing outside a door marked ''space research'' and wondering what lay on the other side.

More than 20 years later, Prof Rodger, who becomes a full professor next month, is now working on the other side of that ''space research'' sign at the Otago physics department.

And this week he was also named as one of nine international space research leaders helping co-ordinate four joint projects for the Scientific Committee on Solar Terrestrial Physics (SCOSTEP) during its next collaborative five-year research plan.

That plan focuses on ''Variability of the sun and its Terrestrial Impact'' and aims to bring ''better understanding'' of how life on Earth is affected by the sun, including its effects on climate change.

SCOSTEP is an interdisciplinary body of the International Council for Science, which aims to strengthen science to benefit society. Prof Rodger is leading, with a US scientific colleague, a project titled ''Specification and Prediction of the Coupled Inner-Magnetospheric Environment''.

Its intriguing acronym is SPeCIMEN.

Gaining this leadership role was a ''positive endorsement'' by international colleagues and meant a ''great opportunity'' to work with many other scientists, he said.

Among Prof Rodger's research interests is seeking to clarify the mechanism whereby energetic particles are lost from the earth's Van Allen radiation belt into the polar atmosphere.

The overall international research programme aims to ''aid the safe and reliable operation'' of navigation and communication satellites and other space vehicles.

Prof Rodger recalls watching Star Trek on television as a youngster and finding it ''inspirational''.

International and interstellar collaboration was a key feature of the Star Trek crew. Given the huge costs involved, international collaboration is also crucial for modern space research, and his involvement shows New Zealand scientists can also contribute, he says.john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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