The Second Century Initiative (2CI) brought more than 80 leading scholars and researchers across a diverse array of disciplines; its successor program, the Next Generation Program, continues to do so. Each faculty member has provided the university with their unique perspectives and leadership in their fields. Their work moves forward important and innovative research and scholarship, while lifting the reputation of Georgia State University and its colleges/schools for work addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
This article is part of a series highlighting individual faculty members and their perspectives through a question-and-answer format. Dr. Petrus Martens came to Georgia State in the 2nd round of 2CI, and is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Q: Can you tell me briefly about your research and scholarship?
A: I am a solar physicist. My research mostly focuses on solar magnetic fields that can have very negative effects on our society. I have over 300 publications in solar physics and computer science, and I am frequently invited to give lectures at international conferences. I was recently appointed to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Commission (AAAC), by the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The AAAC advises Congress, the NASA administrator, NSF director, and Secretary of Energy, on Astrophysics and Space Research matters.Membership of the AAAC is considered a recognition of one’s standing in the field.
Q: What first interested you in your field of expertise?
A: As a grad student I loved complicated mathematical problems, such as solving nonlinear differential equations. Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), which is the physical theory that describes magnetic fields in the Universe, poses an endless number of such problems, and it is just wonderful being able to solve a set of MHD equations and see that the behavior of solar and stellar magnetic fields, as well as the magnetic fields of galaxies and planets, indeed is explained by those solutions.
Q: What did you find attractive about Georgia State?
A: There are two aspects of Georgia State that strongly appeal to me. Firstly, Georgia State is unique among U.S. universities in being really diverse, in having achieved the same graduation rates for whites and minority groups, and in graduating the most African-Americans of all U.S. universities and colleges. Moreover, a great fraction of our students is on HOPE Scholarships. Hence Georgia State is making a great contribution to building a more just and better educated America — a cause that I strongly support.
Secondly, Georgia State is making a major push to strengthen its research capacity and achievements, and it is doing a very good job at that, greatly increasing its research funding portfolio in a time that must universities are happy to hold on to the funding levels they have. Better research means better education and more opportunities for students, and I am happy to contribute to that in my work.
Q: How have your research and scholarship grown since you first arrived at Georgia State?
A: My scholarship has improved because I feel appreciated and supported by the leadership of this university. The Second Century program is a good example of that; we have been able to grow our interdisciplinary work exponentially thanks to that.
Q: What sorts of collaborations have you been able to build at Georgia State, both within the university and outside of the institution?
A: I am working very closely with my computer science colleagues; we have weekly joint lab meetings and have interdisciplinary research projects involving students from both departments working together. Interdisciplinary work with Big Data and Machine Learning clearly represent the immediate future of the sciences, and Georgia State is in a good position to play a leading role in this field. For me personally it is a great irony that as a person who loves to do math with only pen and paper I end up working on problems that can only be solved with enormous amounts of computer power. But that is the reality of contemporary science, and I embrace it.
Q: What new developments do you foresee with your research/scholarly development in the future?
A: As I already mentioned above, Big Data and Machine Learning are the current wave, and for the medium future I foresee Artificial Intelligence (AI) getting to play a major role in science, which will really change everything about it. Therefore, for the long term I don’t feel I can make any reasonable prediction, except that everything will be totally different.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
A: At some point in the future, perhaps not too long from now, we will discover that there is life in the Universe other than the life on Earth we know. That will be profound, but even more profound will be when we discover other intelligent life in the universe. That will shake the foundations of our religion and philosophy, not just science. What will art by other intelligent beings be like? Will they like ours? I bet they will love jazz…..