Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Spotlight On: Rasha Abbasi

Rasha Abbasi, PhD, Assistant Professor in Physics, is awarded prestigious National Science Foundation grant for her research on the microphysics of lightning.

Rasha Abbasi, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for her research, "The Microphysics of Lightning: Observing the Optical Emission from Downward Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes.”


Abbasi is an astroparticle physicist whose research has been focused on cosmic rays and atmospheric electricity. She is also a member of the Telescope Array and the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. Her work with the Telescope Array observatory seeks to understand several important questions including what could be the origin of terrestrial gamma ray flashes (TGFs) and how lightning is initiated. Abbasi’s research into this question is what earned her NSF grant.


TGFs are bursts of high energy photons of sub millisecond duration that are produced by lightning. The study of TGFs, both their initiation and propagation, is of major interest to lightning researchers. The Telescope Array Surface Detector, a 700-square-kilometer cosmic ray detector located in the western desert of Utah, is currently the world’s leading detector in the study of downward-directed TGFs. Abbasi’s research funding allows further investigation of the initiation phase of downward TGFs by measuring their optical component using a 40,000 frames per second high-speed video camera and a photometer at the Telescope Array site. An example of a video collected in the field can be found here.


The results of Abbasi’s work will improve the understanding of lightning, which in turn will improve the ability to mitigate its negative effects and associated radiation hazards. Her research will allow for the description of the microphysics of lightning to the public at a powerful and impactful level. She has published several articles in scientific journals about the observed properties of cosmic rays. In 2019, at the International Cosmic Ray Conference, she made a major presentation on how research on cosmic rays have contributed to breakthrough knowledge of the physics of atmosphere and climate.

With a background in computational physics, Abbasi shares her expertise and research with students in a range of undergraduate physics and astrophysics courses. She earned her B.S. in Physics at the University of Jordan and her Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Utah. As a post-doc at the University of Utah on the Telescope Array experiment, she led the analysis on the first measurement of the proton-air and proton-proton cross-section.

“Professor Abbasi’s innovative work in the lab and in the classroom represents the next generation of work on cosmic ray detection and modeling, exploring connections to and implications for other fields such as atmospheric and environmental science,” says Peter J. Schraeder, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago. “Early in her career, she is making significant contributions to knowledge in the field, and her teaching inspires others to pursue similar questions and career paths.”