J. Brent Parham
What are you currently working on at the Laboratory?
I focus on space environment effects on satellites and infrastructure. This work can range from research in radiation effects causing issues with electronics on spacecraft to atmospheric drag effects on de-orbiting debris. All these effects are triggered by solar storms caused by plasma dynamics on the surface of the sun and the effects of those storms hitting Earth and raining down particles into the upper atmosphere.
How has your career evolved at the Laboratory?
I began as an undergraduate intern hired to investigate satellite drag and our ability to track debris. Originally, I hadn’t really thought much about how space wasn’t really empty, but over time I have learned how it is filled with plasma and how plasma creates many effects on our infrastructure. My interest in those effects led me to get graduate degrees to learn more. Through the Lincoln Scholars program, I was able pursue a PhD at the Boston University Center for Space Physics, launching my own CubeSat to study the Northern Lights. Since returning to the Lab full time with my doctorate, I have been able to contribute to projects such as the GOES weather satellite program, and I am helping with many new efforts to study the effects of cosmic rays on new electronics being developed by Lincoln Laboratory.
What are some of your future goals?
I’d like to work on more satellites that make it to space! It’s an exciting time to work in space technologies, and I’ve had a great time seeing the small satellite community blossom over my career. I think it’s really important to get more measurements of the space environment so that we are prepared for whatever the sun throws at us. It really gives you perspective when you realize how much Earth is affected by the gigantic nuclear furnace in our interplanetary back yard.
Are you involved in any of the Lab’s outreach programs? What has been your experience with those activities?
Over the years, I have helped with Lincoln Laboratory’s outreach programs and the scouting community (I am an Eagle Scout). I delivered a Science on Saturday demonstration on space weather and helped with the Build a CubeSat course at the Beaver Works Summer Institute. I really enjoy talking about the cool physics that you can see in our solar system and helping inspire people to engage with STEM topics. Those programs are often highlights of my year.