By Chris Fish
BREVARD -- Florida Institute of Technology received a grant from a national science institution to investigate and study lightening.
Florida Tech professors Ningyu Liu, Joseph Dwyer and Hamid Rassoul of the Department of Physics and Space Sciences received a National Science Foundation grant of $566,732 during the span of four years for their project, "Investigating Lightning Initiation and Propagation with an Advanced Computer Model and Code."
The project will investigate how lightning originates inside thunderclouds and propagates through many kilometers of air to reach the ground.
"One of the biggest mysteries in the atmospheric sciences is how lightning gets started," Mr. Dwyer said. "Decades of measurements have failed to find the conditions that we think are needed to make sparks inside thunderstorms, and, yet, we routinely see this gigantic spark, called lightning, coming out of the storms. This research is trying to figure out what is going on when lightning first gets started."
Currently, physics-based models can only reproduce the very first discharge before the lightning channel, called the precursor.
Precursors must occur before the first lightning channel is born. These discharges can occur sequentially or simultaneously and may branch and collide with one another in complicated ways, he explained.
To understand this process, the professors hope to build the most comprehensive lightning model in the world.
"I have been doing lightning research for more than 12 years now," Mr. Dwyer said. "It is amazing how little we know about this common phenomenon. We are not talking about black holes half way across the universe. Lightning starts just a few miles over our head and, sometimes, comes right down to our feet. It would be nice to know how it does that."