Jeff Kuhn, deputy director of the University of Hawaii Insitute for Astronomy, has been chosen for an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation senior research award. He is the first American solar astronomer to be chosen for the award, although three other researchers at the University of Hawaii's IfA have won Humboldts.
As deputy director, Kuhn is responsible for managing the university's Haleakala Observatories, and he
frequently gives the monthly Maikalani Community Lecture on astronomical research at the observatories' offices in Pukalani.
Recently, he and a team of astronomers published a surprising paper showing that, contrary to previous research, the size fof the sun does not change over the course of a sunspot cycle.
In a telephone interview from his office in Manoa on Oahu on Thursday, Kuhn said he did not know exactly how he would spend the 60,000 euro ($74,000) grant, but he wants "to develop new models of how and why the solar cycle is so dependent on the death cycle of sunspots."
He added that the physics is unknown, but it is critical to understanding how all stars evolve and change, and that "this understanding may ultimately help us predict how and when a changing sun affects Earth's climate."
The Humboldt Foundation awards a number of senior research grants each year, in part, to facilitate international cooperation with German researchers. The IfA has a relationship with the observatory at Freiburg, and Kuhn said he is sure that will be part of his project.
Kuhn said he knew he had been nominated for a Humboldt, but receiving it "came as a shock to me," because it had never been given for solar work before.
He said the questions he is investigating are interesting in themselves, but that the climate connection is important, too.
"At the end of the day, we do care whether what we're doing is relevant," he said.
Kuhn's research looks to the sun and orbital changes to explain how climate changes.
"I'm concerned we are going in the wrong direction in public-climate discussions," he said.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.