A grant from the National Science Foundation is funding a tenure-track faculty position in New Mexico State University’s astronomy department to integrate research and education in solar magnetic fields. The grant comes through the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences.
“This is one of only six positions funded by the NSF for this purpose,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Juie Shetye comes to NMSU from England to join our astronomy faculty. She will be charged with developing an interdisciplinary solar and space sciences research and education program with a focus on establishing partnerships between NMSU and academic and research communities across the country.”
“NMSU is an obvious choice for someone studying ground-based solar physics, as it hosts one of the more advanced solar telescopes, the Dunn Solar Telescope,” said Shetye. “This telescope is also the go-to training telescope for young students to make new discoveries.”
The project has been spearheaded by R.T. James McAteer and Jason Jackiewicz, faculty members in the Department of Astronomy. The proposal for a five-year program focuses on diagnosing and understanding the magnetic structure and thermodynamics of the sun’s atmosphere.
“Solar physics is entering a new era with the next-generation Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope,” Shetye said. “We are answering some of the biggest questions related to how the sun affects our Earth. The grant will help us develop a team at NMSU that would be able to understand and investigate such data.”
When Shetye was a child in Mumbai, she grew up listening to stories about the universe and the stars, written in her native language. She visited a nearby planetarium and the local children’s science academy to learn experiments in astronomy.
Shetye’s childhood dreams took her from the University of Mumbai to the University College in London, earning a master of science degrees in physics, engineering and space science. She earned her Ph.D. in physics in Northern Ireland at the Armagh Observatory, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
“I study the lower solar atmosphere; this lies between the surface of the sun and the outer corona,” Shetye said. “This region of the sun is very complex, where there are sudden changes in the dynamics at the spatial scales of the entire NMSU campus. These changes can cause storms on the sun and also at times show their influence on the Earth.”
With the help of the NSF grant, Shetye will employ a team of Ph.D. students and researchers to investigate the intricate dynamics of the solar atmosphere.
“As a fundamental part of these efforts, she will be training our students in important aspects of big data and instrumentation while using NSF facilities,” Pontelli said. “Our program addresses the NSF’s concerns about the loss of faculty at academic institutions that train future generations of space scientists.”
Shetye calls it her “dream job.” She started teaching science in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods as a researcher in Mumbai. She used non-conventional methods in class to teach basic physics and math. She continued to mentor students in England and Northern Ireland, focusing on opportunities for students coming from underrepresented backgrounds via organizations such as the Nuffield Foundation, which aims to improve social well-being by funding research and innovation in education, justice and welfare.
“The enthusiasm about science in these students has always been my driving force,” Shetye said. “I used art and science as a method for communication and the response was unbelievable.”
Although Shetye is still in England due to pandemic travel restrictions, she will begin teaching NMSU students online in spring 2021. She is hopeful the restrictions will ease to allow her move to Las Cruces later in the year.