Inspired in the Past and Now Fuelling the Future

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Though a relatively modest investment, Margaret Schmidt’s kind bequest has been able to support space research for 30 years and her legacy is still continuing today.

Associate Professor David Pontin and Professor Colin Waters
Associate Professor David Pontin and Professor Colin Waters from the University’s Centre for Space Physics.

Fusion of Philanthropy and Physics

The late Mrs Margaret Schmidt was fascinated by astronomers. She enjoyed the monthly column in the Newcastle Herald by the University’s late Associate Professor Colin Keay for many years, where she learned about topics from meteors to the sun.Inspired by Professor Keay and his colleagues, Mrs Schmidt chose to leave a gift in her will to the University to further research in space physics. More than 30 years on, her generosity continues to benefit students and researchers working to improve our understanding of space weather and its effects on the technology we use every day.

Mrs Schmidt’s generous gift has so far supported researchers to further our understanding in several areas of space weather and helped them to get their research careers established. We are very grateful for her kindness and the legacy we still benefit from today.”
Professor Colin Waters (PhD (Phys) 1993, D Sci 1987)

Your support can help launch a research career or make a breakthrough that lasts beyond your lifetime. To discuss this further, contact Maria Pavela, Development Manager (Bequests) on 02 4921 8612 or email

A Different Kind of Weather Forecast

To understand the importance of space weather research, we spoke to Professor Colin Waters and Associate Professor David Pontin from the University’s Centre for Space Physics

What is space weather?
Eruptive magnetic storms on the Sun regularly reach the Earth's space environment, driving changes in the upper atmosphere. We study the processes that trigger these eruptions on the Sun, their spread to Earth in the ‘solar wind’, and how the near-Earth space environment responds – the zone where observation satellites reside.

Why does it matter to us?
Space weather impacts human technology and activity, including GPS, satellites and the Internet. For example, the ionosphere changes during magnetic storms, affecting all high frequency communications used by emergency services and aircraft navigation. Large capacity transformers in the electricity grid are also at risk in addition to increased radiation damage to satellites.  Economic losses associated with severe space weather events are estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Our research helps to model and predict space weather so that our equipment can be better prepared – much like weather forecasts on land.

Is there a ‘space weather race’?
It’s a collaborative effort. We work with physicists, astronomers, engineers and others around the world, including NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. Many of our postgraduate researchers have become leaders on international space research projects.
Image: The University is uniquely positioned to assist in growing Australian capacity in space research, using its expertise in the properties and dynamics of near-Earth space, the region containing the satellites we all depend on in increasing ways.

To More Boldly Go...

Building on our world-leading expertise in the properties and dynamics of near-Earth space, the University is hoping to strengthen its capacity by bringing together researchers on joint projects and programs.

As a collaboration between the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, along with partners internationally, including the Australian Space Agency, the teams will focus on direct, practical applications. For example, by collaborating with hardware engineers, software developers and data analysts, they could tackle issues such as improved climate change reporting from space. This collaborative approach will also enable them to train and benefit the next generation workforce for the Australian space sector – building capacity in this growing industry.

The space sector has been identified by the Australian Government as a key area for economic growth. I would like to think that Margaret Schmidt would be excited that she is continuing to support a really important and dynamic area of learning.”
Associate Professor David Pontin

If you would like to know more about the University’s space research, and how you can support it, contact Rose Johns, Development Manager on 02 4921 8612 or email

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