Dan Reisenfeld — Department of Physics and Astronomy
High above Missoula and currently orbiting the earth is a little piece of UM in the shape of a Bundt cake. It’s an instrument partially designed by UM physics Associate Professor Dan Reisenfeld that will map the edge of our solar system for the first time. The instrument is part of the payload of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, a 5-foot wide spacecraft launched in October 2008. With the instruments now switched on and operational, IBEX has set to work charting the dimensions of our solar system’s final frontier.
This is fitting for Reisenfeld, who in the third grade imagined himself Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk and enlisted a number of his classmates to join his crew aboard the Starship Enterprise. Enthralled by planetariums early on, Reisenfeld remembers the moon landings and growing up in a time when space was just being discovered. It was catchy stuff. Reisenfeld received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Yale and a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard.
Before long he was working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he participated in the Genesis mission, whose purpose was to capture a sample of solar wind and return it to Earth for analysis. He also worked on the Cassini mission currently orbiting Saturn. (He still analyzes the ion composition of Saturn and its moons through an onboard plasma spectrometer.) Despite the hands-on nature of the work at Los Alamos, Reisenfeld wanted to teach. He accepted a position in UM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, where students and professors routinely collaborate on research.
“You sort of lose the forest for the trees,” he says. “I needed to be reminded of why I do what I do, and there’s nothing like interacting with students to remind you how cool this stuff is.”