man smiling
Xudong Sun

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded an assistant astronomer at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Institute for Astronomy one of its most prestigious awards for junior faculty.

Xudong Sun received a $620,590 grant for a five-year term from the NSF Faculty Early Career Development program. The award is bestowed on teacher-scholars pursuing cutting-edge research while simultaneously advancing excellence in education.

Sun will be studying active regions on the sun using advanced computer models and the foremost available observational data. His work will take advantage of future data from the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), which is nearing completion on Haleakalā, Maui, and will be the world’s largest telescope for studying the sun.

Solar active regions are areas of the sun that exhibit intense magnetic fields. These strong magnetic fields can cause massive explosions called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which have caused widespread power outages and damaged satellites. Currently, scientists cannot accurately predict when or which active regions will generate CMEs.

“Solar eruptions can drive strong space weather events that impact the earth and affect our technology-based society. A better characterization of the magnetic fields in these active regions in the context of solar eruptions is critical to improving our ability to predict these events and to mitigate their impact,” said Sun.

Sun plans to work with graduate, undergraduate and high school students. He will mentor college students through the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program and UH Mānoa’s recently developed astronomy and astrophysics degrees. Local high school and middle school students will have the opportunity to work with Sun through UH’s Hawaiʻi Student Teacher Astronomical Research program. Sun will also be developing new graduate level courses on solar physics.

More about Sun

Sun is a tenure-track faculty member at the UH Institute for Astronomy. He earned his PhD in physics in 2012 from Stanford University.

He is a science team member of the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, as well as a member of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope Science Working Group, which works with and advises the project director. He has worked extensively on magnetic fields in solar active regions.