Professor Patricia Reiff, Rice University

Reiff photo


Professor Patricia H. Reiff is a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and was the founding Director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University. Her research focuses on space plasma physics, mostly in the area of magnetospheric physics: "space weather". Her research includes study of the aurora borealis, magnetic reconnection, solar wind-magnetosphere coupling (including solar wind control of magnetospheric and ionospheric convection), and magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling. She received her PhD analyzing data from the CPLEE instrument, part of the Apollo 14 ALSEP (see her memories of Apollo here). She is a Co-Investigator for science and E/PO (Education and Public Outreach) on the "Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission" which launched in March 12, 2015. She was the first person to prove, using Dynamics Explorer dual spacecraft data, that the aurora is caused by a mid-altitude electric field. She was a Co-I on the "IMAGE" magnetospheric imaging mission (launched March, 2000), Jim Burch, SWRI, P.I., and was the first to propose radio sounding of the magnetosphere, which that spacecraft included as a key instrument. IMAGE has been recently rediscovered (2018) and may soon return new data. She was a Co-Investigator on the "Peace" plasma instrument on the ESA "Cluster 2" 4-spacecraft suite which were launched in July and August 2000. She is instrumental in bringing real-time space weather forecasts and "Space Weather" information to the public. Her "Space Weather" software, which can be found in many fine museums, can be downloaded free from She is a partner in the "NASA Space Science Education Consortium", and is developing "iClips", immersive educational clips for use in planetarium domes. She recently released a show on "Magnetism" and created seven educational clips on solar and lunar eclipses. She has more than 12,000 educators on her various email list servers, and has a page dedicated to Apollo information and talks.

She is the director for a major project which developed an off-ramp for the information highway by "Creating the Public Connection" , bringing real-time earth and space science data to museums and schools (originally sponsored by NASA's Digital Library Technology Program). Over ten million people have interacted with her exhibits and planetarium shows at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and other museums, and another five million with her web sites. Over 300,000 of her educational CD and DVD-Roms and planetarium videos have been distributed through her spinoff company She has also been a leader in public education activities, including being director for four years for teacher education projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Eisenhower Foundation, in collaboration with Dr. Carolyn Sumners of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS). Their latest collaboration is the creation and marketing of "Discovery Domes", portable digital theaters to teach earth and space science, with over 350 installations in 38 countries and 35 states, through her distribution company ePlanetarium. She has guided many scientific tours, including total solar eclipse trips to Canada in 1979, Louisiana (annular), Mexico in 1991, Peru in 1994, the Caribbean in 1998, the Black Sea in 1999, Madagascar in 2001, Libya in 2006, China in 2008 and 2009, Tahiti in 2010, annular in May 2012, Australia in November 2012, transatlantic in November 2013, an Indonesian trip in 2016 and Wyoming in 2017. Eclipse trips to Chile in 2019 and Argentina in 2020 will also be in conjunction with the Eclipse Tours, a spinoff of the JSC Astronomical Society. She has taught thousands online and in person how to safely view the solar eclipse, and in 2017 gave away more than 35,000 eclipse glasses to teachers and the public.

She is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union , where she serves on the SPA Public Education Committee. In 2009, she received the AGU "Athelstan Spilhaus Award" and in 2013 she won the "SPARC" Award (Space Physics and Astronomy Richard Carrington Award) for service in public education. She is the Rice University representative and former Chair of the Council of Institutions of the USRA - the Universities Space Research Association. She has served on advisory committees for NASA, NSF, NCAR, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NAS/NRC and AAU.

In 2018, she won two lifetime achievement awards (in both cases, the inaugural presentation of the award). The "Marjorie Corcoran Award" from Rice University honors the memory of Physics professor Marj Corcoran, whose mentoring of teachers and underserved students is the basis of the award. The second major award is the "STEM Influencer Award" from the Women's Energy Network, and also is in honor of educating women in STEM careers.

Click this link to get to her most recent publication list. For the full bio including all publications, , click here.

She tweets at "@discoverydome" and "@PatReiff"and has an outreach Facebook persona "Discovery Dome".

She has a Youtube channel that has all her fulldome planetarium shows to view for free.
Her educational videos about space science can be found at

Her MMS Mascot "Trigger" has his own web page, his own "Trigger MMS" Facebook page, and twitter feed "@TriggerMMS"

Reiff/Hill family photo

The Reiff/Hill clan is an "all Rice" family with 8 Rice degrees among the crew (Tom has 3, Pat has 2 and the kids each have one).

Her better (or at least less disorganized) half is emeritus Professor Prof. Thomas W. Hill (BA '67, MS '71, PhD '73).

Our three children, Andrea (Palermo), Adam, and Hunter Amelia Rook, are all Rice alumni. Andrea (Psychology, 2008) began working at ePlanetarium and teaches middle school at HISD. Her husband Zaniel Palermo is an IT professional. She is now a stay at home mom with two children ("no disposable diapers, no formula, and no processed baby food", Zia born November 2014 and son Zen born April, 2018.

Hunter (BA 2009), the artist, has their own "rowdyferret" freelance art and web design company, having previously taught art and web design at Chavez High School (Houston) and has written and illustrated a book on Gender "the Gender book" which received an "IPPY" award for her web design. Married to Zaedryn Meade Rook, they live in Oakland.

Adam, who graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 2009, worked as in Engineer for the State of Florida, having previously taught math and science at YES Prep school Houston. He is married to Kate McGrath Hill, who is a grad student in Marine biology at Florida Tech. Adam just finished his MBA, also at Florida Tech, and has started a new career working with a tech startup.

Patricia's father was a prominent MD in Oklahoma City. She has posted his biography here.

Want more information? Jump to:

Official Physics and Astronomy page, with publications, presentations, etc.

Rice Space Institute home page

Outreach Pages

Software and show sales site

Portable planetarium company

Text resume

Pdf of her mother's book on Breastfeeding "Bottles or Bust" (updated 2016)

"Is Science the Salvation of Society?" (address to National Honor Society meeting, Houston, November 9, 1997)

Questions and Answers from that talk

"Three Heavens - Our Home" Essay (a chapter in the book "Professors Who Believe" published by IVP - ISBN 0-8308-1599-6)

Christmas Card 1996 (family photos, etc. - warning- it's big!)

Christmas Card 1995

Voice: (713)348-4634 . . . . Fax: (713)348-5143

Last Update: July 2018