HAO Astrophysicist, Philip Judge Captures Operatic Dreams

Monday, May 20, 2013

Phil is a Senior Scientist in the High Altitude Observatory (HAO) at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). His research interests include plasma physics, spectroscopy and spectro-polarimetry. But lately, it seems that Phil has been having a bit of wanderlust.  Last summer he went to Japan for two months to collaborate with Yoshinori Suematsu and others in the solar group at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. Almost immediately upon his return he and his wife, Terri, packed some of their worldly belongings and headed off to Montana State University in Bozeman, MT to spend a year teaching while on a sabbatical leave from NCAR. While many of us miss seeing Phil on a regular basis and conversing with him on a multitude of topics; it seems that Phil, on the other hand, is having a great time without us. Following is a short interview with Phil about his sabbatical so far.

Philip Judge receives OGLI award
Phil receiving "OGLI" award from colleagues at the department of Astrophysics, Montana State.
Phil performing as the Duke of Verona
Phil performing as the Duke of Verona in the opera Romeo and Juliet at the Willson Auditorium in Bozeman, Montana.
Photo courtesy Bozeman Daily Chronicle/Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez.
Philip Judge at Montana State
Phil at Montana State.
Photo courtesy Bozeman Daily Chronicle/Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez.

1.  How did you decide to go to Bozeman for sabbatical? What department are you teaching in, what classes are you teaching and to what level of student?

Phil: I decided I'd like to go to a U.S. university that has a strong solar physics department where researchers actually develop instruments. I have an interest in this specialty and it is an area in which I have almost no practical experience. Montana State fits that bill and it allows me to collaborate with Charles Kankelborg, Sarah Jaeggli and others working on the new IRIS mission. The cost of living in Montana is reasonable which is a plus.

2.  What do you find surprising about teaching?

Phil: Two things—how much I thoroughly enjoy the challenges (it is really a learning, rather than teaching experience) and the fact that the students seem to appreciate my classes! I prefer a mix of tutorial lectures, debate/discussion, and problem solving. I was also surprised at how hard it is to teach/tutor elementary concepts in physics, including equations of motion, electromagnetism and optics, without using calculus. This was a real challenge. Lastly, I was amazed to be honored with the graduate students' award called OGLI, for the Outstanding Graduate Level instructor for physics in 2013.

3.  Professionally, what have you been able to accomplish during your sabbatical that you might not be able to do at home at the HAO? 

Phil: About 10 years ago I had an unofficial "sabbatical" in which I was fighting and recovering from illness- this was an opportunity to do some deeper thinking about all kinds of things including solar physics problems, and I spent a lot of time then writing papers and beginning a graduate level textbook.

So far I’ve focused on working with students at all levels. I have developed problem sets and lecture notes (as yet unpublished) at a graduate level, in the areas of plasma physics and atomic and plasma spectroscopy. So far, during the present sabbatical, I have focused on working with students formally and informally. I’ve worked with graduate students, undergraduates and postdocs. I am mulling over new, graduate level, textbook material. I feel I have been able to influence a group of a dozen or more students who are seriously embarking on or considering astrophysics, space physics, or solar physics as a career, at one of the important universities working in this area in the U.S. I have tried to steer young scientists towards problems of interest to me in solar and plasma physics, with, I believe, some success. This kind of opportunity, to influence the future of solar physics, is important to me right now. 

I’ve not worked so much on the planned research of my sabbatical, as the IRIS spacecraft launch is delayed to June 2013 (as of this writing).

4.  Personally, what have you been able to do while on sabbatical that you don't find enough time for when you are home.

Phil: It has been very nice to spend some time with my wife of 24 years, Terri, in a place where we knew almost no-one. She and I have been through an awful lot and felt we deserved a change. We have some new and very good friends here from the physics department. 

After Christmas we adopted a dog, Nellie, from a local rescue situation, and we have explored many beautiful walks around Bozeman. Nellie and I have spent quite a bit of time fishing the E. Gallatin River just five minutes from our apartment. President Obama fished the same river a few years back. Nellie came to us very afraid, particularly of men (me included), and she has already come a long way. 

I auditioned for and was given a role in a professional opera, Romeo et Juliette, by Gounod, here in Bozeman. This is something I am very excited about as it was a career I would have liked to try but was never good enough. I still am not but it is such a thrill to be on stage with those that truly are, and I will do my best.  The principals are very supportive. You can see:

(A side note from the interviewer:  those of us who have heard Phil sing even a few notes know that he is being very modest here)

5.  Can you say more about the University?

Phil:  The University here is a modest size (12,000 or so students), set on the south side of Bozeman, a town similar to Boulder in the 1970s or so. I really smiled on my first day as I wandered through a campus full of what looked like school children but which were actually college students, undergrads and graduates alike. I remember some on skateboards and even some on horseback, some with dogs and lots of bikes. The campus seems a very happy and quite informal place. The physics department here is a tight knit group of very friendly people who are doing interesting work, and I was made to feel right at home. They made me feel very welcomed and much appreciated from the outset.

I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to teach students at MSU. I have made a very good friend, Prof. Jon Harney of the Music Department, who agreed to be my voice teacher in preparing for the Opera. He's the best teacher I've ever had.

6.  When are you coming back to HAO and what is next?

Phil:  I return to NCAR at the end of August 2013. Hopefully I will be refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of an NCAR and HAO senior scientist immediately on my return. I hope I will have some new ideas for attacking some of the fundamental problems facing solar physics, such as measuring the driving forces behind Space Weather. A talented post-doc from MSU, Joseph Plowman, will, in fact, follow me to HAO to work with Roberto Casini, Michael Thompson and I on theoretical work related directly to the CoMP and COSMO projects. I look forward to this work. 

I will remain forever indebted to the ASP fellowship and MSU and HAO for financial support of this wonderfully refreshing experience.

-end of interview-

NCAR, UCAR and HAO are very supportive of staff outreach and collaboration with Universities. Phil’s sabbatical was funded by the Advanced Studies Program (ASP) Faculty Fellowship Program, the HAO and the Montana State University. 

UCAR has started a program called UVISIT where Universities may request staff with certain expertise to come for a visit. See http://president.ucar.edu/university-relations/uvisit for more information.