Graduate student from Geophysical Institute wins national prize

Release Date: 
Wednesday, January 14, 2004


The top honor at the National Radio Science Meeting’s 2004 Student Prize Paper Competition was awarded to Fernanda São Sabbas, a former graduate student working with Professor Davis Sentman at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). The announcement was made last week in Boulder, Colorado.

São Sabbas earned first prize and $1,000 for a paper in which she examined the locations of the initiation of sprites, red splashes of light created from lightning, shooting upwards from thunderclouds. São Sabbas conducted research at the Geophysical Institute from 1999 until May of 2003 when she earned her Ph.D. in Physics at UAF.

The Student Prize Paper Competition is an annual contest that solicits papers from graduate students from across the nation. This year senior scientists in the field of electromagnetics reviewed each paper. The review process lasted roughly four months before São Sabbas and two other finalists were selected and invited to present their papers in the final stage of the competition.

São Sabbas and the other finalists presented their papers before more than 350 attendees and another panel of judges at the National Radio Science Meeting. The presentations were followed by a question and answer period during which students defended the research their paper covered. The judges then convened before announcing their final selections for first, second and third prize.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst Professor Steven C. Reising, coordinator of this year’s paper competition, said São Sabbas’ efforts at the meeting were top notch.

“Her paper represented a significant contribution to science. It is significant to understanding the mechanism of sprite formation and why, specifically, sprites occur laterally or horizontally displayed from their causative lightning strokes, and she was able to answer questions well,” Reising said. “She showed that she understood, in depth, her research.”

Reising said São Sabbas’ win at this national competition brings many benefits. The greatest of these may be the exposure of her research to leading scientists throughout the country.

“We are honored to have students of Fernanda’s caliber,” said Roger Smith, director of the Geophysical Institute. “Her win demonstrates the high quality of research and education that is conducted at the Geophysical Institute and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.”

The National Radio Science Meeting was held in Boulder, Colorado Jan. 5th through Jan. 8th. It was sponsored by the National Committee of the International Union of Radio Science and brings together researchers that work with electromagnetics to better understand the environment.

Steven C. Reising, Coordinator of the Student Prize Paper Competition, (413) 577-0697
Roger Smith, Director of the Geophysical Institute, (907) 474-7282
Amy Hartley, Information Officer at the Geophysical Institute, (907) 474-5823