SAFE Grant Student Spotlight: Hunter Suthers ‘20, Physics and Astronomy

SAFE Grant Student Spotlight: Hunter Suthers '20, Physics and Astronomy

Hunter Suthers was a graduate student in Engineering Physics from Buena Vista, V.A.

Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) fund recipient

Project: “Using Microcontroller-Based Handheld Sunphotometers to Measure Aerosol Optical Depth”

With funding from a SAFE grant, Suthers worked with The Appalachian Atmospheric Interdisciplinary Research (AppalAIR) group on campus to construct multiple Handheld Sunphotometers (H.S.), with assistance from mentor, Dr. James Sherman, professor, Physics and Astronomy. An H.S. is used to measure aerosol optical depth, a variable that determines how much solar radiation is absorbed or scattered by particles in the air, known as aerosols. Because aerosols scatter and absorb sunlight, they directly affect the amount of solar radiation reaching earth’s surface, affecting weather and climate. 

The H.S. constructed through SAFE funding used four filtered diodes that each produce a voltage when the instrument is pointed directly at the sun. The voltage that is produced corresponds to the total amount of sunlight that is permitted through the atmosphere.

These instruments will ultimately make it simple to measure aerosol optical depth from anywhere in the world and make predictions for future climate and weather patterns in any region based on those measurements.

Suthers recalls being able to gain more individual insight into how aerosols affect weather and climate so that he will be better equipped to inform others. Additionally, Suthers was able to reinforce his circuit design, building and troubleshooting skills as well as increase his ability to program using Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform that enables users to create interactive electronic objects .


About The SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at:

About the Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Department of Physics and Astronomy’s curriculum has an applied nature that includes a core of fundamental physics courses and laboratory experiences. The department prepares graduates for a variety of scientific, teaching or engineering professions, as well as future educational endeavors. Learn more at

Compiled and written by Barclay Ann Blankenship and Ellen Gwin Burnette
Feb. 25, 2021

Student and Faculty Excellence Fund (SAFE)
Published: Feb 25, 2021 1:05pm