Ian Cohen

Physics Ph.D. '15
Photo of two men integrating and testing the ERPA instrument for the MICA rocket mission.
Alumni Spotlight Q & A:

Where are you from, Ian?

I am originally from Spotswood, New Jersey.

What was your major at UNH and who was your adviser? 

My Physics Ph.D. was obtained in 2015 under adviser Dr. Marc Lessard.

Why did you choose UNH?  

To be honest, UNH wasn’t really on my radar for graduate school. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know about its rich history in the realm of space physics or the fact that it's one of the prominent programs in the country for that field. I largely came to know about it because several professors and students from my undergraduate institution transferred to UNH just before I graduated.

Which professors had the greatest impact on you?

Of course my Ph.D. adviser, Dr. Marc Lessard, had the largest impact on me — I wouldn’t be where I am today without his mentorship and support. Several other professors in the Space Science Center / Physics Department were also unofficial mentors.

What was graduate student life like at UNH?

Life was a bit different as a graduate student than it was for the undergraduates, but I really enjoyed the community at UNH. I was at home in the Physics Department and got very involved in the Graduate School as well.

Row of color photos of Ian in action.

What was the biggest transitional issue you faced when you started at UNH?   

There was a pretty steep learning curve in my courses that first semester.

What is your current position and why is your work important?  

I’m a Senior Professional Staff Member and Assistant Group Supervisor at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD, working on experimental space physics research, specifically including magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, energetic particle dynamics, and particle flight instrumentation and mission design. Day-to-day is a lot of meetings and coordinating research efforts. I do less active research than I used to, but I love the opportunities to work with and enable other staff to execute on projects.

What are your future career plans?  

I’d like to have a significant role on a future major NASA mission.

How did UNH contribute to your career and where you are now?

I would never have gotten a position at APL without the hands-on hardware experience that UNH afforded me.

"I feel like I’m a small part in a proud history of space physicists coming from UNH."

What are some of your best college memories?   

Looking back at UNH, I remember highlights of many hours working at the UNH Observatory, where I was Manager, and benefitting from significant travel opportunities — including getting to go to Alaska for a rocket launch.

Any advice for undergrads/grad students who are conducting research? 

Be persistent.

What makes you proud to be affiliated with UNH?

I feel like I’m a small part in a proud history of space physicists coming from UNH.


pursue a degree in Physics & Astronomy

Are you or is someone you know an alum who conducted research with us? Do YOU want to be featured in an upcoming Alumni Spotlight? We'd love to connect! Please email Rebecca.Irelan@unh.edu with details.