When the Colorado days start to lengthen in early summer, Assistant Professor Mark Golkowski heads north to a place where the sun doesn’t set until after midnight. “You can stay up really late every night,” says Golkowski. “And that just means more time for research.”
This summer, as he has for most of the past decade, the assistant professor in electrical engineering traveled to Gakona, Alaska, population 215. Golkowski, an expert in electromagnetic waves and plasma physics, also brought three CU Denver engineering students to continue his ongoing research in generation, observation and theoretical modeling of very low frequency (VLF) and extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic waves.
“When it comes to frequency, bandwidth, and wireless communications, it may seem that bigger is always better, at least in terms of raw numbers,” Golkowski observes. “After all, terabytes are replacing gigabytes and who still remembers internet speeds quoted in kilobytes per second?”
But despite this trend toward faster electronics, Golkowski is part of active research and advanced technology at the other end of the frequency spectrum. “Most people often do not realize how much these low frequency waves affect our environment and the role they play in important technologies,” he points out. Very low to extremely low frequency waves are used by the Navy to communicate with submarines and by companies looking for resources through geophysical prospecting.
To find controlled sources of these waves, Golkowski and his students travel to the HAARP facility in Alaska. HAARP is a $150 million scientific research facility run by the US Air Force that is used to study the upper atmosphere with high power radio waves. The National Science Foundation and Air Force fund a special campaign that allows students and faculty mentors to travel to Alaska and run experiments at HAARP each summer. Golkowski has been doing research at HAARP since his days working on his PhD at Stanford.
In July, Golkowski and three CU Denver students, Jason Carpenter, Ryan Jacobs, and Matthew Webb, participated in the summer campaign along with 24 students from Stanford University, MIT, University of Florida, and Boston University as well as other schools. Golkowski had the students bring the low frequency receivers that they had built to research the effects of waves generated by lightning storms. Lightning flashes generate electromagnetic waves at almost all frequencies, including substantial energy in the ELF and VLF bands.
“Testing these systems in the field in Alaska with the HAARP facility was one of the few ways to make sure that they were capable of recording science grade data. At the same time the students were able to perform new research with HAARP,” says Golkowski, underlining the fact that the trip to Alaska was both an important rehearsal and a new scientific endeavor.
The students will be presenting their experimental results obtained at HAARP at the URSI National Radio Science Meeting. “I find the scientific questions to be fascinating on so many levels,” says Golkowski, “but perhaps the most rewarding experience is to be able to witness the students becoming engaged in the excitement of discovery.”
For the first time in his many trips to Alaska, Golkowski took time off to go fishing. He caught a 3-foot-long giant king salmon. He says he still has a few filets in in his freezer.