Jacob Bortnik, Ph.D.

Dr. Jacob Bortnik

Current work:

I am currently an assistant researcher in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UCLA. I entered the group in Sept 2004 as a postdoc, working with Prof. Richard M. Thorne, and was appointed to my current position in Sept 2006. My research focuses on the dynamics of the Earth's radiation belts, numerical modeling and observation of various waves in the VLF frequency range such as lightning, chorus, and hiss, and the nonlinear interaction of high-energy electrons with these waves.

In March 2008, I was the lead author of a Nature paper that described a novel mechanism for the origin of plasmaspheric hiss, a space physics problem that remained unsolved for over 40 years. This finding was listed in Discover magazine's top 100 stories of 2008. In May 2009, I was the lead author of a Science paper that reported a serendipitous observation confirming this mechanism.


I enjoy a variety of work, and occasionally consult in areas related to wave propagation and growth, statistical data analysis, and interpretation. Since June 2004 I have acted as a consultant to a small company called QuakeFinder, based in Palo Alto, CA. QuakeFinder uses a chain of search-coil magnetometers to look for possible magnetic precursors to large earthquakes, as well as DEMETER satellite data.

Graduate work:

I did my Ph.D. at Stanford University, in the VLF group (electrical engineering dept.) under Prof. Umran S. Inan, and Prof. Tim Bell. My research dealt with the numerical modeling of lightning-generated, magnetospherically reflected whistler waves, and calculating the precipitation signatures of energetic radiation-belt electrons due to these waves. I was at Stanford from Sept. 1998 to Sept. 2004.

My master's thesis was completed in the high-voltage lab of the University of the Witwatersrand's electrical engineering department. This thesis was done under contract with ESKOM (the South African national electric utility), and evaluated the use of high-phase order transmission (6 and 12 phases in place of the usual 3) in compacting long-range, high-voltage transmission lines in electrifying rural Africa.

South Africa:

I was born in Israel to newly immigrated Russian parents, but at the age of 10 we moved to South Africa where I lived until 1998 before going to grad school. My memory of early high-school involves a funny conversation I had with my best friend at the time. He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to be a physicist. Curious, he asked what a physicist actually did, and without missing a beat I said: "A physicist studies the relationship between energy and matter", at which point we both looked at each other, hoping that the other might know what that meant. I have been trying to find out what that means ever since.


I have been married since 2001 to my lovely wife Kirsty, and in April 2009, we became first-time parents to a beautiful baby boy.

I enjoy keeping fit and have been playing squash for a number of years. I do weight training, and (when I'm not injured) running. To balance the physical exertion, I like good beers, fine coffees, playing the classical guitar, sudoku, and hanging out with my awesome friends. A bit like C.S. Lewis, I became a Christian in my adult life (Dec 2001) and have been surprised by Joy ever since.

Escondido, CA.
Jacob, Escondido CA.
Jan 2005