ECE ILLINOIS graduate student and research assistant Matthew A Grawe (BS ‘15, MS '17) recently received an Outstanding Student Presentation Award from the American Geophysical Union. The award recognizes the quality research of students' in the Earth and space sciences and is only presented to the top 2-5% of participants. Grawe previously won an award at a different conference for his work in tsunami detection through the use of remote sensing. However, his research has transitioned into a new topic that focuses on space hazards affecting the power grid.
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occur when an eruption on the Sun results in a ball of plasma hurling off into space. If a CME impacts the geospace environment, it causes variations within the Earth's magnetic field. These variations generate currents in power lines, and if they are large enough, they can damage the power grid. A host of instruments operated by NASA and NOAA are stationed on satellites at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point (about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth towards the Sun) and take measurements of the plasma that is coming towards them. Measurements from these satellites reveal information about the intensity of an incoming CME before it impacts the Earth's magnetosphere as it takes about 30 to 60 minutes for the CME to travel from the L1 point to the Earth.
Grawe’s work is conducted as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project led at Illinois by ECE ILLINOIS Professor Jonathan Makela and Professor Farzad Kamalabadi in collaboration with researchers at several other institutions. A particular focus of the work at Illinois is on making “L1-to-ground” predictions of the geomagnetically-induced currents (GICs) that are induced in power lines caused by space weather (e.g., a CME travelling towards Earth) before it arrives. According to Grawe, "this is a particularly difficult problem for a variety of reasons; the system separating the L1 point and the surface of the Earth is highly complex and guided by physical processes that are not fully understood. Additionally, the ground conductivity structure extending hundreds of kilometers beneath the power system impacts both the intensity and predictability of GICs."
Although there are many challenges that arise, Matthew Grawe is making significant progress in this area. He was invited to speak about his work at the 2018 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting that occurred in December and stated that winning an OSPA was an honor and recognition of his diligent research efforts.
ECE ILLINOIS Professor Jonathan Makela serves as Grawe's graduate advisor.