Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT graduate student wins top prize in Visualizing Science contest

Breyona Mitchell

UT’s College of Natural Sciences recently announced the winner of its annual Visualizing Science contest, which celebrates images captured by participants.

This year, physics graduate student Maile Marriott received the top award for her image of the “space weather” caused by the sun. “Space weather” occurs when solar wind blows outward from the sun, affecting satellites, space missions and the atmosphere on Earth, according to a College of Natural Sciences press release.

Marriott’s piece models a “switchback,” a phenomenon in the solar wind where magnetic field lines are in reverse direction. The wind follows the now-bent lines because, as it is made of plasma, the charge makes it attracted to the field. Marriott said she generated the piece by merging electromagnetic equations with fluid dynamic equations. She then used computer programs to solve the equations, helping her understand the evolution of the sun’s plasma.  

“A lot of times people research waves in a box, and it’s just a uniform wave that fills up the whole box,” Marriott said. “My research has been looking at what localizing the wave in the box does and what effect that ends up having on the physics, because at least when we’re modeling it, it actually matters a lot.”

Marriott said the total solar eclipse on April 8 allowed heliophysicists to gather data that will inform her research. She said because the corona — the outer edge of the sun — can be viewed during the eclipse, researchers can see if “switchbacks” are formed there.  

Anna Tenerani, an assistant professor of space plasma physics, supervises Marriott’s graduate studies and once helped direct her project. She said Marriott is extremely self-driven and enthusiastic about her research.

“I was so happy and excited (when Marriott won),” Tenerani said. “I’m happy for her, of course, and also to see her showcase her research was a nice reward.”

Steve Franklin, a communications specialist and part of the contest’s panel, said the contest tries to include all kinds of scientific research.

“(The contest) is to showcase science in a way that energizes people,” Franklin said. “There are so many great images out there that just really draw you in and get you asking questions and making you enjoy science.”

Marriott’s piece and all other contestants’ work can be viewed through a 3D virtual gallery.

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About the Contributor
Breyona Mitchell, Associate Comics Editor
Breyona is a sophomore english and studio art double major from Houston, Texas. Currently, they work as the associate comics editor and has previously drawn for the paper as a senior artist. They love playing video games with their friends.