The Boston University Center for Space Physics was formed during the 1987/88 academic year as a collaborative research unit between the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Space Physics is the subject that attempts to understand the space environment of the Earth, the sun, the other planets, and the minor bodies of the solar system. Space is a vast natural plasma laboratory. As well as adding to our understanding of our own natural environment, space physics complements laboratory plasma physics in improving our understanding of the plasma state, the state in which over 99.9% of matter in the universe is thought to exist.

Space physics research at Boston University began with Professor Michael Papagiannis in the 1960’s. His thesis work on low frequency radio astronomy led to an interest in radio wave propagation in the Earth’s ionosphere. When the Astronomy Department separated from the Physics Department in the late 1960’s, space physics became one of its major research areas. Professor Papagiannis continued an active interest in space physics through the 1970’s, publishing papers on coronal holes and solar high-speed streams.

Professor Michael Mendillo joined the Boston University Astronomy faculty in the early 1970’s and began building up another space physics research group, concerned primarily with ionospheric physics. This effort was initially largely funded through the Air Force Geophysics Laboratory (AFGL), located just outside of Boston. In the late 1970’s, Professor Jeffrey Hughes joined the Astronomy Department and began research in magnetospheric physics at the University. Hughes’ appointment was soon followed by those of Research Professor Jules Aarons (Astronomy, 1981) and Professor Jeffrey Forbes (Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering, 1984), with primary interests in the ionosphere and thermosphere, respectively. With Forbes’ appointment, space physics interests began to bridge school boundaries and to take on a critical mass.