- O.J. Tucker
I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with senior scientists such as Mike Combi, Andy Nagy, Steve Bougher and Tamas Gombosi as well as the young scientists in the department.
Dr. O.J. Tucker is a research fellow with Research Professor Mike Combi and Research Scientist Valeriy Tenishev. Although Tucker is a successful researcher who has contributed to more than 35 publications, he did not always know he would become a space scientist.
“I did not know I was headed for a career in space science, but I was always interested in all the sciences. As a youngster, I did not know any African-American scientists outside of the history books, and obtaining a PhD appeared impossible to me.”
After earning his B.S. degree in Math-Physics at Hamden-Sydney College in Virginia, Tucker applied for graduate school at the University of Virginia.
“I was fortunate that my application came across the desk of Robert E. Johnson, a distinguished scientist in the field. He provided me an opportunity to pursue a graduate degree when many other professors overlooked my application. And ultimately he steered me to space science.”
Tucker’s PhD research, performed with Professor Johnson, involved developing computation models to investigate molecular escape from the exospheres of Titan and Pluto. Tucker’s AOSS research has been focused on modeling the dynamics of planetary exopsheres to interpret remote sensing and spacecraft data.
One of the pieces of spacecraft data that Tucker and his group are studying is the data from the Cassini spacecraft, which will orbit the Saturn system until 2017 and will have been collecting data on the system for over 14 years.
“We are using Cassini data of Enceladus' plume to investigate plausible fissure geometries that can produce the simultaneous supersonic gas flow and subsonic flow of ice grains from the Tiger Stripes. In addition, we are modeling Cassini data for Titan's upper thermosphere-exosphere region to examine the role of thermal and non-thermal induced escape on the atmospheric structure and evolution.”
Tucker and his research group look forward to learning more about Pluto’s atmosphere with the New Horizons spacecraft.
“In 2015 the New Horizons spacecraft will observe the Pluto-Charon system and collect in situ data. Our models indicate that Pluto's atmosphere is more extended than previously thought. Pluto's extended atmosphere envelopes its moon Charon, and the atmosphere is transferred at rates that can sustain a Charon atmosphere that could be detectable by the ALICE instrument onboard the New Horizons spacecraft.”
One of the things Tucker enjoys most about AOSS is the collaborative environment.
“I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with senior scientists such as Mike Combi, Andy Nagy, Steve Bougher and Tamas Gombosi as well as the young scientists in the department. And I enjoy the camaraderie among the postdocs that has been fostered by Mark Moldwin.”
Tucker also appreciates being able to spend time with his family.
“I have had flexibility with my work schedule to meet the needs of my young family: Twins Emily and Amirah Tucker 1 years old, and Sarah Tucker 3 years old. But my wife Tanea Tucker does the real work!”
- Liang Zhao
I feel most proud about being independent.
After spending the first twenty-five years of her life in Beijing, Research Fellow Liang Zhao left her home for the AOSS space and planetary physics doctoral program.
The transition was made easier when her boyfriend (now husband), Assistant Research Scientist Cheng Zhou, was accepted into the atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences doctoral program. The two of them married before coming to Michigan.
“This department was our best choice because we could keep working on our science and be together,” Zhao says.
After earning her PhD in 2011, Zhao won the NASA Heliophysics (Jack Eddy) postdoctoral fellowship and became a research fellow at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). After two years she came back to AOSS for a second research fellow position with Dr. Enrico Landi.
Zhao says her first impression of the University of Michigan was in middle school from a television English course titled “Family Album U.S.A.” In the program, the father and grandfather were U-M alumni.
“I remember clearly how proud they were of the school when they were singing the ‘Hail Michigan’ song,” Zhao says.
Zhao recently published a paper in the Astrophysical Journal that introduces two novel parameters to track the solar cycle and to evaluate Sun’s global magnetic field complexity during solar maximum. The paper earned attention from the scientific blog Universe Today in a story titled, “Is the Sun more active than it looks?”
Zhao says that while she is proud of her publications, her biggest accomplishment has been successfully making the transition from a student to an independent scientist.
“I feel most proud about being independent. The whole purpose is to become independent, come up with your own scientific question, find an idea to solve it, , and get it published.”
She adds that she does still ask for help sometimes from her advisor, Dr. Enrico Landi, and her PhD co-advisors Professors Len Fisk and Thomas Zurbuchen have also given valuable guidance throughout her education.