Skip to main content

WVU physicist named Cottrell Scholar

A West Virginia University physicist is using her experiences as a Cottrell Scholar to further her research efforts and create a new curriculum.  

Weichao Tu, an assistant professor of physics in the WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been named a 2019 Cottrell Scholar. She has received $100,000 in funding alongside the award to further her development of a new space science learning module.  

Weichao Tu
Weichao Tu

Tu works with a team to model the trapped radiation environment of Earth’s two Van Allen radiation belts, which contain high-energy charged electrons in geomagnetic fields. This environment is hazardous to any spacecraft or equipment operating within the belts. To overcome that barrier, she researches and models electron dropout in a “near-Earth” space to examine the environment’s dynamics from a safe distance.

“The research will inform the governing processes during the electron dropout as well as resolve their relative importance,” Tu said. “The results of this proposal will make a significant contribution to the physical modeling and reliable prediction of radiation belt dynamics, which are of considerable practical importance due to their potential hazards to space systems.”  

Tu also hopes to apply her research in the classroom. She plans to organize the information from this study to develop a new undergraduate curriculum.

“The educational objective of this application is to develop a new space science learning module, ‘Magnetospheres in the Solar System,’ for introductory undergraduate courses,” Tu said. “The topics of space science and space weather appear only occasionally in formal instructional programs and an appreciation of their importance is often lacking in current undergraduate courses. The proposed learning module, which includes interactive presentations, hands-on activities and computer simulations, will contribute to fill this gap.”

Tu is one of 24 educators chosen to receive this award, which emphasizes the importance of integrating research and education.

"Professor Tu is not only an outstanding scientist; she is also a super star in the classroom,” said Earl Scime, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “WVU is fortunate to have a professor who is so gifted in both teaching and research. Her Cottrell Scholar award recognition is richly deserved."