Michael J. Buonsanto Memorial Lecture Series

The 22nd annual Michael J. Buonsanto Memorial Lecture will be presented by Jan J. Sojka, of Utah State University.

Buonsanto Lecture 2021

The Buonsanto lecture topic this year will be “Would a present-day ionospheric servo model improve on Michael’s 1986 ionospheric servo study?”

Date: Monday, November 22, 2021
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET (Eastern time


Michael Buonsanto’s 1986 ionospheric servo study provides an excellent starting point to appreciate Michael’s unique aeronomy insights and ability to harness “tools” to advance our knowledge in space science. These tools included Rishbeth’s servo equation, Hedin’s MSIS, conjugate ionosonde observations, and of course FORTRAN. Michael’s study was ambitious, involving seasonal dependences, solar cycle dependences, and conjugate hemisphere dependences of the midlatitude wind fields. On these conjugate field-lines, the issue of topside fluxes was also of key importance. His clear description of how the aeronomy processes are interdependent and hence constrained his ionospheric servo model are noteworthy. A feature all too often missing from today’s studies is his careful error analysis.

Today these aeronomy processes are still the foundation of our understanding; however, 35 years onwards, our observational databases are hugely improved. The presentation will focus on the total electron content (TEC) database of the MIT Haystack Madrigal data repository—an archive I’m sure Michael would have had great satisfaction exploring with his servo concepts and models.

This difference in data coverage and cadence restricted Michael and other researchers from probing the ionosphere-thermosphere drivers beyond a climatology level. Using the Madrigal TEC, an ionospheric servo will be tested to better understand how difficult it still is to extract knowledge about the ionospheric drivers. These are, in fact, the same drivers Michael was targeting with his servo analysis. This modern servo is shown to have challenges similar to those Michael faced in 1986.

About the Speaker

Jan Josef Sojka was born in Duns Scotland; UK on 12 April 1950. He attended Galashiels Academy (GA), then graduated with a BS in Natural Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Space Physics from University College London.

His doctoral and post-doctoral work at Mullard Space Science Laboratory involved the study of the aurora from observations made by sounding rockets and magnetospheric plasma phenomenon from the European Space Agency’s GEOS-I and GEOS-II satellites.

Since October 1978, Dr. Sojka has been engaged in computational modeling and theory of the ionosphere at the Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences at Utah State University where he is also professor of physics and Head of the Physics department. He has chaired several NSF discipline working groups and NASA STDT teams, is a trustee for the Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium, and was a Dean of the Heliophysics Summer School. He has authored over 250 scientific papers, given over 450 talks, and co-edited a book on Heliophysics. He is also part owner of Space Environment Corporation, an applications-oriented space weather corporation based in Logan, UT. He is a recipient of the Oliver Medal for Science (GA), the D. Wynne Thorne research award (USU), and the Utah Carnegie Professor of the Year award for excellence in teaching.

For a list of past speakers, please see the Buonsanto Memorial Lecture Series archive.

About the series

Dr. Michael J. Buonsanto (1952–1999) was a key member of the Atmospheric Sciences Group at MIT Haystack Observatory from January 1988 until his sudden and untimely death on 21 October 1999. As an MIT Principal Research Scientist, he made many important scientific contributions to studies of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and was an outstanding and cherished colleague, mentor, and friend. In his honor, Haystack Observatory has established an annual memorial lecture on space science topics at the forefront of the atmospheric science research field.

At Haystack, Buonsanto specialized in mid-latitude physics and chemistry of the upper atmosphere and effects of magnetic storms, significantly advancing these fields worldwide through numerous publications done in wide-ranging collaborations with members of the international aeronomy and space physics community. He was the driving force behind the highly productive US Coupling Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR) program’s STORM working group, and was elected to the CEDAR Science Steering Committee. Despite his short career, Michael’s scientific output was prodigious, authoring over 70 refereed scientific articles. He was the single author on 13 of these articles, most notably his 1999 ionospheric storms review paper which continues to be highly referenced today with 650+ citations.

Michael J. Buonsanto (1952–1999)
Michael J. Buonsanto (1952–1999)

Buonsanto was a graduate of Northwestern University and received Masters degrees in Education and Astronomy from Tufts University and Boston University, respectively, working with Professor Michael Mendillo. He earned his PhD in Engineering from the University of Auckland (New Zealand) under Professor John Titheridge, and devoted most of the 1980s to religious education, teaching, and ionospheric research while living among the people of the Fiji Islands. Michael’s career was characterized by intellectual honesty along with a deep openness and willingness to work with and educate others. Students from middle school to graduate school reaped numerous benefits from his dedicated guidance and supervision. Postdoctoral researchers, visiting scholars, and fellow researchers spanning the globe (whose only contact with him was sometimes online) received his full attention and careful assistance with the datasets needed to further their research.

Buonsanto was an excellent and organized scientist whose many seminal contributions span a wide range of topics in ionospheric physics. His untimely death was a great loss to the community. Michael’s work continues today through the lasting international impacts of his insightful physics, enduring journal articles, research by former students, and in the efforts of his dedicated scientific colleagues.