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Dan Reisenfeld - Physics & Astronomy

Dan Reisenfeld

For as long as I can remember, my passion has been space exploration.  A child of the Star Trek/Star Wars era, the lure of what might be “out there,” and the idea of us someday working and living in space inspired me to pursue a career involving one of humankind’s greatest endeavors.  I learned that I also have an insatiable curiosity to understand how the world around us works. These two ambitions naturally steered me in the direction of the scientific exploration of space.

Today, in addition to teaching physics and astronomy at UM, I am a team member on a number of NASA missions.  These include the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), which is mapping out the boundary between our solar system and the rest of the galaxy; the Cassini Mission, which is exploring Saturn, its rings and moons; and the Genesis Discovery Mission, which returned a sample of the solar wind to Earth in order to get a better understanding of the composition of our Sun.  These missions have led to remarkable discoveries about our solar system.  For instance, IBEX has discovered that our solar system is encircled by an immense band of energetic particles, the origins of which we still do not understand.  From Cassini we have learned that Saturn’s moon Enceladus possesses thermal geysers, not unlike “Old Faithful,” that fill Saturn’s magnetosphere with water vapor.  Being a part of these discoveries has been incredibly rewarding, and I confess that I receive a simple childlike pleasure from building stuff that flies in outer space.  The thought that something I have helped craft in a laboratory on Earth is now in flight in deep space is thrilling and yet humbling.

As a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, I am honored to be able to share the excitement of space exploration with the students of UM.  I have worked with undergraduates on projects such as building up our space science laboratory, helping determine the size and shape of the Earth’s magnetosphere, and even discovering the existence of an oxygen exosphere around Rhea, one of Saturn’s moons.  I find it greatly rewarding to work with students, open them up to the world of space research, and send them on their way to careers that I hope are as enriching and gratifying as my own.

About Dan Reisenfeld

Professor Reisenfeld received a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1998. He came to UM in 2004 after seven years as a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. During his time at UM, Professor Reisenfeld has taught courses on introductory physics, modern physics, quantum mechanics, galaxies and cosmology, stellar astrophysics, and advanced laboratory physics. He leads the space science group at UM and is the affiliate representative for the Montana Space Grant Consortium.