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Physics Ph.D. Graduate Receives Prestigious Fellowship to Study High-energy Thunderstorm Radiation

05/09/2013

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Meagan Schaal, who completed her doctoral degree in physics from the Florida Institute of Technology this spring, received an internationally competitive postdoctoral fellowship award funded by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The fellowship is administered by the Research Associateship Program of the National Research Council (NRC). Her position, which begins June 17 and is renewable for up to three years, will be to work on Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flash (TGF) spectral data from the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT), the main scientific instrument on the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope spacecraft.

Schaal will use data from NASA’s Fermi spacecraft to study how thunderstorms produce powerful bursts of gamma-rays seen from space. A leading theory is that these bursts are the result of dark lightning within the clouds, large discharges that compete with normal lightning but emit almost no light. Recent observations by another spacecraft called AGILE indicate that the gamma-rays may reach much higher energies than expected. Schaal’s work will help test the AGILE results, and provide a deeper understanding of these fascinating events.

Originally from Beach, N.D., Schaal successfully defended her dissertation “X-Ray and Gamma-ray Observations from Lightning” and received a doctorate degree in physics at the spring Florida Tech graduation ceremony May 4. Schaal received her bachelor's degree in physics from the University of North Dakota and her master's degree in space sciences from Florida Tech. She worked under the supervision of Joseph Dwyer, professor, Department of Physics and Space Sciences, and Hamid Rassoul, Dean of the College of Science.

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