Faculty Profile: Ilia Roussev
by Katie Whitman
Heliophysicist Ilia Roussev studies the origin and evolution of the most energetic, and potentially most damaging, events on the Sun. He investigates the structure and evolution of the Sun's magnetic field, the initiation of massive solar outbursts called coronal mass ejections, and the resulting space weather in our solar system. He takes a theoretical approach to these problems, developing physics-based computer models that are run on a 168-processor supercomputer housed at the IfA's Advanced Technology Research Center on Maui. Roussev is interested in the Sun because its activity has a vast impact on Earth. "The Sun provides light and heat that makes life possible, but it is also very dangerous for life and technology," he says.
Working with collaborators at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Roussev's most recent work involves developing a realistic model of the Sun's magnetic field that starts deep down in the Sun's convection zone, and then follows the field as it emerges through the photosphere (the Sun's visible surface) and expands into the corona. When modeling coronal mass ejections, solar astronomers typically assume what the magnetic field looks like in the photosphere, then go from there. Roussev explains that starting in the convection zone is what makes this project unique. The collaboration has produced some interesting results, which will be published within the next year.
Originally from Bulgaria, Roussev earned his PhD from the School of Mathematics and Physics at the Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. He then worked at the Center for Environmental Space Modeling at the University of Michigan, where he carried out analytical and computational studies of the solar atmosphere. Roussev joined the IfA faculty in 2006.
In 2008, Roussev founded the Center for Computational Heliophysics in Hawai`i (C2H2). The research group currently includes Roussev, astronomer Noé Lugaz, three graduate students, and an outside collaborator from Belgium. Along with its primary goal of doing computational studies of the Sun, C2H2 is also heavily involved in public outreach. Under Roussev's guidance, C2H2 astronomers and public outreach specialists visit classrooms, hold workshops, work closely with high school and middle school teachers to incorporate heliophysics into their curriculum, and mentor students working on science fair projects. Additionally, C2H2 focuses on the long-term development of an educational website that provides materials, tutorials, and resources for interested students and teachers. Public outreach is close to Roussev's heart, "I was given this opportunity when I was in middle school, and I should give the same opportunity to students wherever I go. I'm very excited and very happy to be able to do that."
Roussev is very active in the broader heliophysics community. This year, he was a primary organizer of the Solar Heliospheric and INterplanetary Environment (SHINE) workshop in New Mexico.
When not working on one of his projects, Roussev likes to practice martial arts with his daughter Ana and to collect silver coins.