NSF invests in West Point’s Arctic Space Research

By Maj. Renee Sanjuan USMA Associate Dean for Policy and Communications Date: Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022 Time: 15:41 EST
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Col. Diana Loucks has a passion for understanding space weather and its impact on military effectiveness. Her work investigates how the aurora affects GPS signals in the Arctic.

As Loucks explains, “Space weather’s effects on Global Positioning System (GPS) signals in the auroral oval have led to numerous advances in how we understand the behavior of the high-latitude ionosphere. As our understanding has grown, so has the depth of our questions about how these kilometer-scale structures develop, and the effects they have on ground and aerial users.”

The National Science Foundation has awarded Loucks with the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program Award for impact in this area. The Foundation is awarding Loucks an estimated $767,000 over five years to fund a post-doctoral fellow and establish interdisciplinary and interdepartmental research and internships. 

The overall goal of her CAREER Award research is to formalize space weather research to operations activities at West Point. This award will enhance undergraduate space science education at West Point, develop broader undergraduate position, navigation and timing (PNT) curriculum, and enable her to secure funding for subsequent and important work in the field. 

Starting this line of research in 2014, Loucks has continued this work at West Point for the past five years, where she applies this knowledge to the hundreds of cadets and faculty that she teaches and mentors as the director of Advanced Physics in West Point’s Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering.

The impact her work has on cadets at West Point is immeasurable. Over the years, she has personally mentored 38 cadets through in-depth studies.

“The research I have conducted with Col. Diana Loucks was a cornerstone of my academic development during my undergraduate studies,” 2nd Lt. Adam Hoxeng said. “It greatly expanded my academic network and was my first introduction to the challenging yet exciting world of original academic research.”

Directly addressing the Armyʼs needs, her research provides an understanding of operational impacts of aurora for on-the-ground commanders.

“The space weather research Col. Loucks has conducted has greatly impacted my academic career as a cadet and beyond,” 2nd Lt. Chase Lewis said. “Since graduating, Iʼve had the opportunity to work on projects for the EOD community where I have had to reach back to Col. Loucks for expertise about how space weather and the aurora might affect electronics and magnetically sensitive explosives on the ground.ˮ

Her mentees also consist of students from various disciplines. In her most recent work, she led an interdisciplinary research team comprised of four academic majors and two graduation year groups. Cadets presented the culmination of their year-long work at West Point’s Projects Day Conference. Their experience is discussed in a recently published article at https://www.army.mil/article/256152

Under Loucks’s leadership, this project will encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers, foster industry collaboration, and expand the available workforce for the Nation.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSFʼs most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. 

Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. The CAREER Program embodies NSF’s commitment to encourage faculty and academic institutions to value and support the integration of research and education. 

Learn more at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2022/nsf22586/nsf22586.htm

Loucks currently serves as an academy professor at West Point. Prior to her appointment as a professor, she was a Space Operations officer, where she most recently served as the chief of Space and Special Programs for the 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado, including support to combat operations as a member of Combined Joint Task Force–4 (June 2013-April 2014), Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Loucks holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado.

Learn more about the Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering at https://www.westpoint.edu/academics/academic-departments/physics-and-nu… and the West Point Academic Program at https://www.westpoint.edu/academics