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UCLA Workshop on Space Physics Education

On March 30 and 31, 1995 the UCLA Space Physics group hosted the first of what promises to be a series of workshops on instructional computing in space physics. As the number of spacecraft stationed in the Earth's magnetosphere exponentiates and our society becomes technologically more sophisticated and more dependent on these spacebased resources, both the importance of space physics and the number of people needing to be trained in space physics will continue to increase. Space physics is a very difficult subject for students to master. Both mechanical and electromagnetic forces are important. The treatment of problems can be very mathematical and the scale sizes of phenomena are usually such that laboratory studies become impossible, and experimentation, when possible at all, must be carried out in deep space. Fortunately computers have now reached a state of evolution in which they are able to greatly facilitate instruction in space physics. The purpose of this workshop was to explore the means by which this could be accomplished. Specifically the participants sought to identify, test and critique software for improving the teaching of space physics at all levels; to identify and catalog World Wide Web (WWW) data sets and images that can be used in space physics instruction; to examine and critique incipient electronic text books; and to develop plans for the enhancement of these resources.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the workshop was the decision by the participants to organize an International Space Physics Educational Consortium (ISPEC) that would act as a central clearinghouse and registry for software, datasets and on-line textbooks. With time, more and more institutions and groups involved in space physics research and education are establishing WWW homepages to put data and educational and public outreach material on line. With the establishment of ISPEC we hope to plan and coordinate these individual efforts so as to maximize their effectiveness and minimize duplication. This, we hope, will lead to the establishment of a world wide "virtual learning center" for space physics. To accomplish this goal, the consortium will organize periodic meetings and also establish a WWW homepage of materials that can be freely copied and that meet ISPEC "standards". The consortium will consist of member institutions represented by an individual from that institution. The consortium will be led by a rotating chairman, elected annually. The initial chairman was C. T. Russell who organized the present workshop. The incoming chairman is N. Omidi of UCSD, who will also be the host of next year's workshop.

The workshop examined two computer programs designed to aid students studying space physics. The first program xspace has seven modules covering magnetospheres, cold plasma waves, MHD waves and shocks, charged particle motion in electric and magnetic fields, solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field, magnetospheric currents and the ionosphere. A description of this program can be viewed at UCLA Space Physics Tutorial. The second program xwaves, is a user friendly front end to the popular program WHAMP for the dispersion relation in warm plasmas. Both programs are available from UCLA.

A number of data resources were identified on the WWW of interest to the space physics community. Many of these can be accessed through the WWW directory on the SPA Homepage. A more extensive catalogue is now being initiated as part of the ISPEC effort. This catalog can be accessed from ISPEC Homepage Available data sets include YOHKOH x-ray images of the sun, ground based auroral images, plasma wave spectra and computer simulation results.

The third effort undertaken by the workshop was to review and critique in their early stages two attempts to create on-line textbooks. The one being assembled at Oulu University in Finland is principally a solar terrestrial physics text. It can be accessed at The book being assembled by the UCSD group in La Jolla California is planned to be an interactive, multimedia learning source on space plasma physics. The first chapter of this book is on kinetic wave particle interactions and contains material on linear and nonlinear theory and computer simulations. It can be accessed at

Those interested in learning more about the results of the workshop are invited to browse the ISPEC Homepage. Those who are interested in joining the consortium should contact us.


Last Modified August 31, 1998.