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Two Lafayette physics professors and a colleague have received a $153,000 NASA grant to conduct research that will further understanding of the ocean believed to exist on Europa, a moon of the planet Jupiter.

David Hogenboom, professor emeritus of physics at Lafayette, and Andrew Dougherty, associate professor of physics at Lafayette, will work on the project over the next three years in collaboration with Jeffrey Kargel of the United States Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. Other participants are based at University of Nantes, France and Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nev.

“The discovery that Europa is very likely to be a ‘water world,’ with an ocean tens of kilometers deep beneath its icy crust, ranks among the most exciting advances to date in planetary exploration,” note the researchers. “Immediately it raises questions of the composition and physical properties of the ocean, the overlying crust, and sub-ocean materials.”

The apparent existence of water underneath its icy surface has brought Europa increased attention from NASA and the public.

“The importance of water in planetary physics, chemistry, and biology lends this substance a special role – the shaper of worlds and indispensable sustainer of life,” the researchers explain. “Appropriately, NASA has placed a high priority on obtaining confirmation that an ocean exists on Europa, mapping the ocean in three-dimensional space, and characterizing itPlanning and successful execution of any effort to dive into and directly explore the ocean will require a good knowledge of Europa’s crustal composition.”

The latest in a series of NASA grants awarded to Hogenboom and Kargel, the funding will facilitate experiments on mixtures of magnesium sulfate, sodium sulfate, and water, forms of which are believed to exist in the non-ice regions of Europa. Research at Lafayette will determine the conditions of these compounds when subjected to high pressures and measure the densities of their liquid forms.

Dougherty will lead the design and construction of the optical imaging system that will be crucial to the experiments. Hogenboom will head up execution of the experiments, and Kargel will focus on analysis of the results, which will be added to previous data obtained by the researchers and data from other collaborators to create models shedding light on the evolution of Europa’s ocean, among other applications. The findings will be shared through papers in scientific journals and conference presentations.

The research team is expected to include Lafayette students, who will assist with data analysis and the running and monitoring of experiments. Their participation will be funded through Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate with faculty with research while earning a stipend. Both Hogenboom and Dougherty have coauthored papers and abstracts with these students that have been published in scientific journals.

“They’ve been essential in the past,” notes Hogenboom, who has mentored 11 “remarkable” EXCEL Scholars. “I’m more proud of my students and what they’ve done than of my own research.”

Peshala Pahalawatta, for example, who graduated summa cum laude in 2000 with a degree in electrical engineering and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, developed — almost entirely on his own — a sophisticated data acquisition program to collect research data based on a commercial software package called Lab View. The program runs an experiment around the clock.

“I really believe the experience I had with Professor Hogenboom was immensely valuable,” he says. “He gave me a lot of latitude, and independence to be creative with the Lab View program.”

This past summer, Dougherty worked with EXCEL Scholar Mayank Lahiri ’05, a double major in physics and computer science from Bombay, India, on a project examining the early stages of crystal growth in an effort to understand the origins of the complex growth patterns. Previously, Dougherty did exploratory work with two Lafayette students who redesigned his temperature control system to the precision and stability needed for this project as well as acquired early data.

“To be working on a research project at the end of my freshman year was truly amazing, and Lafayette’s small size made it much less intimidating than it might have been at a larger university,” says Lahiri. “At Lafayette, it’s a more symbiotic relationship; you get the professor’s work done, and you learn an incredible amount at the same time.For the undergraduate level, this is the ideal environment.”

Before assuming emeritus status in May 2000, Hogenboom was Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Physics at Lafayette. He maintains an office and laboratory in Lafayette’s Hugel Science Center. Hogenboom joined the faculty in 1965, serving as department head from 1982-1994. His career included stints as visiting senior research fellow at University of Kent, Canterbury, England, in 1973-1974, and visiting scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at University of Arizona in fall 1989 and at United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif., in spring 1987.

Hogenboom has published his research in many papers and abstracts of conference presentations, including 15 coauthored with Kargel. He is a recipient of Lafayette’s Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty Lecture Award in recognition of excellence in teaching and scholarship and was the first recipient, in 1990, of the Daniel L. Golden ’34 Alumni Association Faculty Service Award recognizing distinguished service to Lafayette through the Alumni Association and alumni activities. He earned a bachelor’s degree from College of Wooster in 1957 and master’s and doctoral degrees from Pennsylvania State University in 1961 and 1963, respectively.

After joining the Lafayette faculty in August 1990, Dougherty served as Dana Assistant Professor of Physics from the next year until being promoted to associate professor in fall 1996. He has received several grants in support of his research, including three from National Science Foundation. His most recent NSF grant is funding an interdisciplinary bioengineering and environmental systems project in collaboration with Lafayette faculty members Javad Tavakoli, professor and head of chemical engineering, and Art Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. For the past two summers, the professors worked on the project with Trustee Scholarship recipient Katie Barillas ’04, a chemical engineering major from Bethlehem, Pa.

Dougherty has published his research in a number of scientific journals, co-authoring papers with Lafayette students that have appeared in Physical Review, Physical Review Letters, and Proceedings of the Computational Crystal Growers Workshop. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in physics from St. Joseph’s University in 1982 and earned a Ph.D. in physics from University of Pennsylvania in 1988.

With a diameter of 3,138 km, Europa is slightly smaller than earth’s moon. It is the smoothest object in the solar system. The satellite has a mostly flat surface, with nothing exceeding 1 km in height. The surface of Europa is about five times brighter than the earth’s moon.

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