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Ben Greer Wins R. N. Thomas Award

Published: 07-27-2015

Benjamin Greer with the cake celebrating his 2015 R. N. Thomas Award. Credit: Steve Burrows, JILA

Graduate student Benjamin Greer has won the 2015 R. N. Thomas Award. The $500 award comes from a fund established by Nora Thomas, the widow of JILA co-founder Dick Thomas. Greer also received a book about Thomas’ storied career in astrophysics.

Greer is a fifth-year graduate student in Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences who plans to graduate in December. He works under Fellow Juri Toomre and Senior Research Associate Brad Hindman.

In announcing the award to JILA, Toomre said, “Ben is highly motivated and very independent. He shows a real flair at the interface of theory and computational analysis of complex astrophysical data.

“For his thesis research, he focused on fundamental reassessments of how one can use high-resolution helioseismic observational data to probe solar subsurface flows in detail within the near-surface shear layer. The results are superb.”

Hindman enjoys telling a story about orienting Ben as a new graduate student two weeks into his tenure. He and Toomre had spent a Friday afternoon laying out the current projects and where their sticking points were. The group had been working on one particular problem for about a year.

“I got an email on Monday,” Hindman recalls. “And, Ben said ‘I worked on it over the weekend, and I think I’ve got it,’ and I said ‘Oh, sure.’” Hindman went into the lab, and Greer showed him what he’d done, and it worked beautifully. In fact, Greer’s idea became the basis for his thesis (due for completion in November). Hindman says the group might be two years behind where they are now without Greer’s insight.

As first author, Greer has published three papers and is currently preparing two more. Two of Greer’s published papers present an important modernization of the local helioseismic technique of ring analysis. In them, he developed improved measurement techniques for flows beneath the surface of the Sun. With them, it is now possible to measure flows twice as deep as previously possible. The spatial resolution of these measurements has also improved threefold.

 Toomre says Greer’s recent work on analyzing data from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on the Solar Dynamics Observatory may be revolutionary. Greer’s new techniques are already influencing the study of subsurface dynamics of the Sun.


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