Alumni Spotlight Q & A:
Where are you from, Thom?
From the New Hampshire seacoast – born in Portsmouth, schooled in Newmarket.
What was your major and who was your adviser?
Electrical Engineering and Physics BS, '70. Also Master of Arts in Teaching, '71. UG adviser was Robert E. Simpson. I was a postdoc research scientist with Roger Arnoldy from 1979–1983 and studied his hot plasma electrons and ions data set from the ATS-6 satellite, which I operated for a few years along with some other nearby spacecraft.
Why did you choose UNH?
It was nearby and had what I wanted to study. I was skeptical about ivy league and networking. After I received the PhD from Univ. Colorado Boulder, a combination of family considerations and Arnoldy's research drew me back to UNH.
What were your favorite courses and which professors had the greatest impact on you?
A freshman lecture on liberal education by John Brockelman (Philosophy) impressed me greatly. Apart from EE and Physics, Val Dusek's Philosophy of Science was interesting and important in switching to Physics and education.
What did you think of the campus and extracurricular activities?
I started dorm life after a year as a commuter. Roommate George Thomas had a sports car and I loved weekend rallies. I became politically active in the late 1960s war protests.
What was the biggest transitional issue you faced when you started at UNH?
Commuting was very limiting. Dorm life was great and lifelong friendships came out of that.
How is UNH addressing the social cause you are most passionate about?
I'm pretty out of touch with UNH by now, but am most concerned with energy and climate disruption, and have become an advocate for electrification to end combustion.
What is your current position and why is your work important?
I'm a project scientist emeritus at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I'm doing some consulting and writing on space plasmas and magnetism from my home near there in Annapolis. My consulting is done as the sole proprietor of 3rd Rock Research.
What are your future career plans?
My goal is to write articles and perhaps a book on topics related to climate disruption by energy use, and solutions to that problem.
I believe we are destined to field research outposts in space and on other bodies beginning with the Moon and Mars. I hope my research will contribute to our ability to understand and manage atmospheres in those and other locations.
How did UNH contribute to your career and where you are now?
It was crucial, in that I learned some engineering and had student aide jobs building and operating laboratory and space experimental hardware. I'm sure that was important in finding a graduate research assistantship in Sounding Rocket space research on the aurora and space weather, which also led me back to UNH and then to NASA employment as a research scientist and project manager.
Any advice for undergrads/grad students who are conducting research?
Get the course work and exams behind you before becoming totally immersed in research work.
What can be improved so that other students conducting research have an improved experience?
I don't really have any critiques or regrets about being at UNH. It gave me all I could handle and prepared me to follow my nose.
What makes you proud to be affiliated with UNH?
The Earth, Oceans, and Space Institute grew out of the departments in which I studied as a student and worked as a postdoc, so I feel I was at least a participant in the process that led to its creation as a world-class center for the study of Earth in space and in the Cosmos.
What impact do you hope your work has on future generations?
I was focused mainly on the effects of the sun, solar wind, and geomagnetic field on our upper atmosphere. I believe we are destined to field research outposts in space and on other bodies beginning with the Moon and Mars. These would be analogous to those we operate in the Arctic and Antarctic. I hope my research will contribute to our ability to understand and manage atmospheres in those and other locations.
Are you on social media and do you have any other links to share?
- Here's the link to my NASA resume
- You can also find me on Twitter
- And 3rd Rock Research on Facebook
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.