Emily Hawkins brings hands-on and interdisciplinary planetary physics research to LMU physics classes

Attending a school similar to Loyola Marymount University is what made Emily Hawkins, newly appointed tenure-track assistant professor of physics, want to teach and earn her Ph.D.

“LMU is the perfect setting to continue doing the research I am interested in while teaching in a similar environment that I was taught in,” said Hawkins.

She will be teaching Physics 201: Introduction to Electricity and Magnetism this fall and plans to involve students in hands-on, interdisciplinary research that engages engineering as well.

Hawkins’ field of interest involves the study of planetary fluid dynamics with two specific sub-branches. The first is researching the magnetic field generation of planetary bodies, which happens within the fluid layers inside of planets.

“I look at how fluid motions inside of planets are actually able to generate and sustain their outer shield, that protects the planet from harmful solar radiation, which is one reason why life can exist on Earth,” said Hawkins.

The second is explaining the physics involved in the motions of sub-surface global oceans on icy bodies, such as the moons Enceladus (Saturn) and Europa (Jupiter). “We’ve discovered that there is a global ocean beneath the surface ice layer of these bodies which means there’s also a potential for life to exist there,” said Hawkins.

“Both topics tie in to trying to find life on other bodies in our solar system and beyond,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from Occidental College. An internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena working on a project related to planetary physics piqued her interest in the discipline. It was her first encounter with planetary physics and she fell in love with it.

“What I love about the work is that there really is so much that is unknown, and it’s really a great time to be in this field because there are a lot of upcoming spacecraft missions,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins went on to earn her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Geophysics and Space Physics at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I would like to be a mentor to underrepresented students in STEM,” said Hawkins. “I really want to share my own experience about how I’ve learned the value of studying physics over engineering. I believe that is a common misunderstanding with students interested in both topics. There is this special value of doing physics both in academia and industry.”

Hawkins also wants to help students in STEM develop science communication skills.

“I would like to help students develop skills to basically communicate complicated physics subjects using everyday language to people who might not have a science background,” said Hawkins.

When Hawkins is not working, she enjoys pursuing her life passion of dance that she’s been doing for 25 years now. She used to dance competitively for most of her life, but now enjoys dancing at home. Since the pandemic, she’s rediscovered bicycling, another passion. She also loves to travel the world and visit other countries.

“I love that research can bring opportunities for world travel,” said Hawkins.