Lingling Zhao

Dr. Lingling Zhao is a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award recipient.

Michael Mercier / UAH

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) has selected Dr. Lingling Zhao, an assistant professor of space science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), for a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award.

Dr. Zhao is also a researcher in the Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research (CSPAR) at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System. She is one of 41 awardees selected from 155 applications from 87 member institutions.

"I feel excited and honored," Dr. Zhao says. "It’s a national recognition of my career as a junior faculty."

The $5,000 award by ORAU will be matched by UAH. The competitive Powe award is made to enrich the research skills and professional growth of young faculty members at ORAU member institutions. It provides seed money for junior faculty members that often results in additional funding from other sources.

Dr. Zhao’s research focuses on the nature of the turbulent kinetic and magnetic fluctuations that are embedded in the solar wind.

“The turbulence is a trace of the heating process in the solar corona, which is the top layer of the solar atmosphere and has a temperature of millions of degrees Kelvin,” she says.

“The coronal heating is a decades-long question for space physics and is a major motivation for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission,” Dr. Zhao says. “By studying turbulence measured by the Parker Solar Probe close to the sun, my research will hopefully contribute to the understanding of the coronal heating process.”

Particularly interesting for her is work she is doing on how to model the change of turbulence as Parker Solar Probe continues to approach the sun.

“The turbulence contains multiple components, including different types of waves and stationary structures,” Dr. Zhao says. “The goal is to create a model that can describe turbulence as observed by the Parker Solar Probe at various locations.”

The third faculty hire that resulted from the Connecting the Plasma Universe to Plasma Technology in Alabama Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grant by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Zhao was also the third woman hired, significantly increasing the diversity of UAH’s Department of Space Sciences. Previously, she received the UAH CSPAR Science Achievement Award in 2019 and the UAH Researcher of the Year Award in 2020.

The grant money will be used as a part of her summer salary and so that Dr. Zhao can attend the annual American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in December to present her new research results. The UAH matching funding will be used to support a graduate student.


Dr. Lingling Zhao

Jim Steele