|Alma mater||University of Washington|
|Institutions||Goddard Space Flight Center|
Elizabeth "Liz" MacDonald is a space weather scientist who works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She is the co-investigator on the Helium, Oxygen, Proton, and Electron Spectrometer on the NASA Radiation Belts Storm Probe mission.
Elizabeth MacDonald was born to Walla Wallans Bill and Alice MacDonald. MacDonald received a BSc in Physics from the University of Washington, funded by a NASA Space Grant scholarship, in 1999. Her mentor, Ruth Skoug, encouraged her to remain in research. MacDonald completed her postgraduate studies the University of New Hampshire, earning her PhD in 2005.
MacDonald is interested in plasma mass spectrometry, and has 15 years expertise in instrument development and data analysis/interpretation.
After completing her PhD, MacDonald joined Los Alamos National Laboratory. At LANL she was the Principal Investigator for the Z-Plasma Spectrometer on the Department of Energy Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System geosynchronous payload. She also led the Innovative Research and Integrated Sensing team. She was principal investigator for the Advanced Miniaturized Plasma Spectrometer. She received the Los Alamos Awards Program recognition three times.
Between 2009 and 2011 she led the Department of Energy funded Modular Advanced Space Environment Instrumentation. That year, she noticed a spike in Tweets about an aurora borealis. In 2013 she became New Mexico Consortium-affiliated researcher in 2013, working on instruments that measure plasma in the near-Earth space environment. She has served on scientific review panels for the National Science Foundation and Los Alamos National Laboratory grants. Today MacDonald works in the Goddard Space Flight Center.
In 2018 MacDonald and her team announced the discovery of a new aurora called Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (STEVE). Steve is further south than has even been seen before. The European Space Agency Swam A satellite was used to identify that the charged particles in STEVE were around 6000 °C. It was first observed by Canadian amateur astronomers in 2015. MacDonald attributes the faint purple glow to a subauroral ion drift. MacDonald published the finding in Science. She is working with NASA to crowd source sightings of STEVE.
In 2016 in the journal Space Weather, MacDonald and co-workers reported that "citizen scientists are regularly able to spot auroras farther south of an area where prediction models indicated". MacDonald leads an interdisciplinary citizen science project called Aurorasaurus, which uses social media to predict the Northern Lights during the current solar maximum. To fund the program, she won a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The site (Aurorasaurus.org) is managed by Liz MacDonald, Don Hampton and Jason Ahrns at theGeophysical Institute.
In 2017 she described the aurora as a glitter bomb on the website Science Friday. In August 2017, she spoke at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site about the 2017 solar eclipse. MacDonald regularly speakers to high school students and community groups.
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