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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

NJIT Physicist Who Connected Solar Outburst With GPS Failure Promoted To Distinguished Professor

NJIT Professor Dale Gary, PhD, of Berkeley Heights, an expert in solar radio data, was promoted to distinguished professor.   Gary examines the conditions under which solar radio bursts from distinct solar events can disrupt cellular telephone signals.

The honor was awarded Sept. 2, 2009 at the University Convocation, an annual celebration.  Since 1997, Gary has directed Owens Valley Solar Array (OVSA), near Big Pine, CA., a leading research facility to study the sun’s impact upon earth.  Gary’s many roles have included principal investigator for a design study to build a future radio telescope called the Frequency Agile Solar Radio Telescope.  He was recently named Project Scientist for the construction phase. The National Science Foundation and NASA support this work.  Such special instruments enable Gary and researchers at NJIT’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research to study solar outbursts. 

Convocation at NJIT traditionally honors select faculty and staff members who have demonstrated the highest level of excellence over a sustained period.  “We reward them not only for their achievement, but because their leadership serves as a testament to NJIT’s commitment to excellence,” said Donald H. Sebastian, PhD, NJIT Interim Provost and Vice President of Research and Development. 

In 2006, Gary’s discovery that such bursts also cause failures in Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers changed the way people view solar radio bursts.  A solar outburst bombarded Earth on Dec. 6, 2006 with a record amount of radio noise.  Initial research reports in the U.S downplayed the outburst due to a computer glitch.

“The odd thing about this outburst was that the Sun is supposed to be at the minimum phase of its 11-year cycle,” said Gary. “Nevertheless, the disruption lasted more than an hour, produced a record amount of radio noise and caused massive disruptions of GPS receivers world wide.”

A complex sunspot on the Sun was responsible for the 2006 outburst, said Gary.  Before the event, the radio output of the Sun in the GPS broadcasting band was 54 on the scale of solar flux units.  During the outburst, associated with the large solar flare, the radio noise reached around one million solar flux units, according OVSA instruments.

“This reading was more than 10 times the previous record, and called into question scientists’ assumptions of the extent to which the Sun can interfere with GPS and wireless communications," Gary said. "OVSA's results are especially useful because they monitor the same right-hand circular polarization that the GPS satellites use for broad-casts.  Most other radio instruments measure total intensity rather than circular polarization, which undercounts the noise effect on GPS signals."

The recognition of the record-setting nature of the burst was delayed because the US Air Force Radio Solar Telescope Network (RSTN) reported lower numbers--13,000 solar flux units.  But after OVSA researchers triple-checked their figures, it appeared that NJIT’s group was correct. Cornell University researchers later independently confirmed OVSA findings.

Gary is the author of more than 100 articles in scholarly journals. He was previously at Caltech for 15 years as a research associate in astrophysics. He received his BS in physics from the University of Michigan and his PhD in astro-geophysics from the University of Colorado. 

A. Zachary Yamba, EdD, President of Essex County College, was the keynote speaker.  Yamba is the longest-serving college president in New Jersey, who is widely credited with transforming Essex County College into the vibrant and progressive institution that today enrolls more than 20,000 students.  Yamba was one of the early founders of a partnership that has enabled ECC and neighboring NJIT, Rutgers-Newark and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to collaborate on numerous collegiate and community initiatives in the city’s University Heights district.

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.