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On hair-raising flights, UND grad students make an IMPACT for NASA

From left, undergrad student Nicholas Camp, graduate students Michael Willette, Jennifer Moore, Christian Nairy and Postdoctoral Fellow Marwa Majdi stand with equipment used to collect weather data for the NASA IMPACTS program. The team worked with David Delene, atmospheric professor of atmospheric sciences, in collecting and processing data for the project. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Christian Nairy wasn’t sure he had the time to tackle another research project at UND. He had plenty to do in completing a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences. He changed his mind when he was offered the chance to fly directly into snowstorms to gather atmospheric data for NASA.

Nairy was asked to join the project by David Delene, research professor of Atmospheric Sciences, who was awarded more than $600,000 to participate in the NASA IMPACTS Project (Investigation of Microphysics & Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms). Data gathered from the project will be used to help update forecasting models of winter storms on the East Coast. The project is undertaken only once every few decades and involves data collection by airplane and weather balloons, two of which were launched in mid-February: one on campus and the other in Bemidji, Minn.

Nairy already had a field project flying into cirrus anvil clouds over Florida, but he’s glad he said yes to the IMPACTS project — a project that would take him and graduate student Jennifer Moore through some of the roughest turbulence of their lives.

“I said yes because of the experience that I would gain, and the fact that I’d be flying on an aircraft doing real-world research in the field,” Nairy said. “I’m thankful every day that I said yes. It was a great opportunity.”

Delene, Nairy and Moore didn’t do the work alone, however. The research project had help from people across the academic strata of the UND Atmospheric Sciences Department.

Project members included: Marwa Majdi, postdoctoral fellow, who is doing post-processing, image assessment and who wrote software for the project; Michael Willette, a graduate student doing field support, data processing and acted as a backup flight engineer; Nicholas Camp, an undergrad who did data processing and acted as the lead balloon launch engineer and Blake Raffery, an undergrad who assisted with balloon launches. Nairy and Moore operated sensor equipment aboard a NASA P-3 aircraft.

Read the full story at UND Today.