HEPL, founded in 1947 as Stanford's first Independent Laboratory, provides facilities and administrative structure enabling faculty to do research that spans across the boundaries of a single department or school—for example: physics & engineering or physics & biology/medicine. The Independent Laboratory concept, in many ways unique to Stanford, facilitates world-class research and teaching.
For more information about HEPL research, see the Research page.
Image of a solar flare, captured
on 12 Jan 2015 by NASA's Solar
Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
Image Credit: NASA/SDO and the
AIA, EVE and HMI Science Teams
Solar flares can release the energy equivalent of many atomic bombs, enough to cut out satellite communications and damage power grids on Earth, 93 million miles away. The flares arise from twisted magnetic fields that occur all over the sun's surface, and they increase in frequency every 11 years, a cycle that is now at its maximum.
Using artificial intelligence techniques, Stanford solar physicists Monica Bobra and Sebastien Couvidat have automated the analysis of the largest ever set of solar observations to forecast solar flares using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which takes more data than any other satellite in NASA history. Their study identifies which features are most useful for predicting solar flares.
Left: HEPL doctoral candidate, Karthik
Balakrishnan holds a spherical proof
mass from his UV-LED charge control
experiment in the lab. Right: A Russian-
Ukranian Dnepr rocket launches
Karthik's experiment, housed in a Saudi
Arabian satellite, into orbit.
Given the current political state of the world, you might think that the headline above describes a doctoral candidate’s pipe dream. However, back on June 19, 2014, this satellite launch event actually happened!
Karthik Balakrishnan is a doctoral student in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department of Stanford’s School of Engineering. His research on charge control systems for satellite guidance is sponsored by HEPL and the Center for Excellence in Aeronautics and Astronautics (a collaboration between Stanford and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia), and it is being carried out in the laboratory of Robert Byer, Professor of Lasers and Optics in Stanford’s Department of Applied Physics. Professor Byer is also a former director of HEPL. Mr. Balakrishnan’s experimental apparatus uses low-power, ultraviolet frequency LEDs to remove electrostatic charge buildup from a baseball-sized, gold-coated sphere comprising the guidance control mechanism that enables a satellite to circle the Earth (or another planet or the Sun) as a gravitational reference sensor (GRS).