John H. Thomas, professor of mechanical engineering and astronomy at the University of Rochester, has been named a Senior Visiting Fellow of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge, England. The Institute conducts research programs in which scientists from around the world focus on particular problems in pure and applied mathematics.
As a senior fellow, Thomas will participate this fall in the institute’s special four-month program on the magnetohydrodynamics of stellar interiors—the motion of matter and magnetic fields in and around stars. Thomas has worked extensively to reveal the magnetic workings of the sun and other starts, including how sunspots form and how a star’s magnetic field develops and evolves.
Thomas recently garnered attention when he and colleagues discovered that the lines of magnetic force that emerge from sunspots appear to peel apart like husk off an ear of corn as some of the lines are dragged back beneath the surface by a sort of pumping mechanism due to convective motions near the solar surface. This pumping and the magnetic fields it bends create the penumbrae around sunspots, the strange rings of mid-darkness that have eluded explanation by astronomers since Galileo first sketched them.
Cambridge University and Thomas have had a long-standing relationship. He was a NATO postdoctoral fellow there in 1966-67 in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). He spent the spring semester of 2002 there again to study stellar magnetism, while he was also a visiting fellow of Clare Hall, one of the Cambridge colleges. Returning to Cambridge as a Newton fellow this fall, Thomas will continue his research collaboration with colleagues in DAMTP and at another British institution, Leeds University.
Thomas also has been a visiting professor at Oxford University, and is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, as well as a Life Fellow of Worcester College at Oxford and Clare Hall at Cambridge.