CASPER's boundless quest for knowledge

Since its inception in 1999, Baylor’s Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering has welcomed highly regarded researchers into a community of colleagues who share a common devotion to discovery. Academically, CASPER offers students challenging and rewarding paths to a broad assortment of degrees through Baylor schools and departments, and by special arrangement with Texas State Technical College (TSTC) Waco.

In 2005, Baylor was admitted into the Universities Space Research Association, a private, international nonprofit consortium established in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences to stimulate and advance research and education in the space sciences. Membership in this elite group that includes such recognized research institutions as Caltech, University of Stuttgart, Harvard, MIT, Rice and Yale, affords new avenues of opportunity for interdisciplinary and collaborative projects with scientists and researchers who are the world’s foremost in their fields.

CASPER applies a multi- and interdisciplinary philosophy to the study of space science and plasma physics. The lab’s three theoretical and three experimental research groups comprise diverse and comprehensive resources for the practice of research ranging from the most fundamental of topics to the highly complex and enigmatic.

The CASPER lab’s two GEC plasma cells, inductive plasma generator, drop tower, light gas gun, lasers, and fully equipped machine and electronics shops offer students and seasoned researchers alike a research environment designed to simulate a national laboratory experience. Much of the CASPER technical staff previously served at national laboratories, assuring students of exceptional technical support and opportunities to learn new technical skill sets from highly experienced personnel.

CASPER researchers draw upon resource institutions on the local, national and worldwide scales. Under a collaboration agreement with nearby TSTC Waco, CASPER benefits from ready access to that institution’s expertise and extensive infrastructure in laser electro-optics, robotics, advanced manufacturing, semiconductor manufacturing and nanofabrication.

Similarly, through the center’s partnership with the Central Texas Astronomical Society, CASPER students and researchers enjoy access to the society’s Paul and Jane Meyer Observatory. The Meyer Observatory is located less than an hour away in the hills near Clifton, Texas and is equipped with a fully instrumented, computer-controlled 61-centimeter (24-inch) research-grade Cassegrain telescope. The agreement also brings with it opportunities for collaborative observations with University of Texas colleagues at UT’s McDonald Observatory located near Fort Davis in the remote Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas.

More broadly, current and past CASPER corporate and educational partners include Coherent, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Quantronix, Rice University, Sandia National Laboratory, SEMAECH, Southwestern Medical Center, Texas Instruments, University of Houston, University of Texas, University of Texas Medical Branch, Universities of Stuttgart and Duisberg-Essen, Tezpur University and Zyvex, among others.

Investigators in CASPER’s three theoretical research groups maintain workspace both in the BRIC and in the university’s five-story, $103-million Baylor Sciences Building in which the departments of physics and mathematics reside.

The three CASPER experimental groups maintain two plasma and space science research laboratories in the BRIC. The Hypervelocity Impacts and Dusty Plasma Lab (HIDPL) operates two GEC RF reference cell plasma experimentation systems, an inductively driven 15kW plasma generator (IPG) a low-velocity light gas accelerator system, an electrostatic accelerator fitted for dust particle acceleration, two frequency doubled Nd:YVO4 lasers (Coherent-Verdi), a Ti-Sapphire laser system and a single- and two-stage light gas accelerator system. By arrangement with NASA, CASPER researchers conduct hypervelocity impacts using the two-stage light gas gun facility located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

CASPER conducts an annual Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation that brings undergraduate students from around the world to conduct genuine, active research alongside CASPER and Baylor physics for 10-weeks each summer. A companion eight-week summer program — Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) — invites science teachers from the elementary, middle and high school and community college levels to CASPER to participate in research with any of the active research groups, to develop new science curricula or to take one of a variety of courses designed to help them hone their classroom skills.

CASPER educational outreach specialists evaluate next-generation classroom concepts and curricula developed by a research consortium consisting of Baylor, Texas Education Service Center Region 12 and educational architecture firm Huckabee, Inc.

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.