Department of Physics & Engineering - Faculty Details

Dr. Ryan Haaland

Dr. Ryan Haaland
Chair and Professor of Physics & Engineering


  • Physics 

  • Physics education 

  • Space debris 

  • Space physics and upper atmospheric physics 


  • D.Phil., Physics, University of Oxford, 1999 
  • M.S., Space Physics, University of California Los Angeles, 1990 
  • B.A., Physics and Math, Concordia College, 1985


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Dr. Ryan Haaland is available to comment on topics related to areas of interest or expertise. If you need further assistance, contact Public Affairs at 970-247-6073 or by email.

About Dr. Ryan Haaland

Ryan Haaland is the chair and a professor of Physics and Engineering at Fort Lewis College. He joined the college in 2006 and has served as department chair since 2010. Dr. Haaland conducts research in upper atmospheric electricity, physics education and space situational awareness. For over a decade, he has studied high-speed optical measurements of electrical discharge phenomena in the upper atmosphere. Prior to joining Fort Lewis, Dr. Haaland served 21 years as an officer in the United States Air Force and was an associate professor and chair of the Department of Physics at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Dr. Haaland helped spearhead the Fort Lewis partnership with several higher education institutions to form Falcon Telescope Network, which identifies and studies objects floating above the Earth’s atmosphere (the observatory project is funded by Defense University Research Instrumentation Program). He is currently funded by the National Science Foundation to create and test research-based pre-instruction learning modules for introductory physics to prepare students for interactive engagement lessons (in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force Academy and four other institutions). His research has been funded by various other organizations as well, including the Department of Defense.

Dr. Haaland was the 2014-2015 Featured Scholar at Fort Lewis College and has received several other awards for excellence in teaching and research. 

Grant awards

Dr. Haaland is leading the Fort Lewis College program for Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM), a 6-year $3.7M grant to conduct material science to improve recruitment, retention, and degree attainment from groups most underrepresented in the material sciences. The Fort Lewis College PREM grant is the first in NSF Director of Material Science to be a partnership between a Science and Technology Center; the first to be awarded to a Native American Serving institution, and the first partnership between a Native American serving institution and a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Awarded in September 2018.

Dr. Haaland is leading the Education component as part of a team of scientists developing the microscope of the future. Advancing imaging science and developing diversity in STEM fields. STROBE is a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center funded for 5 years at $25M and is comprised of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Berkeley, Fort Lewis College, Florida International University, and the University of California at Irvine to solve grand challenges in imaging science. Includes collaboration with several national laboratories, industrial partners and international institutions. Awarded September 2016.

Dr. Haaland coordinates local support for and student participation in the extraction of underground argon (UAr) for use as a target material used in the direct detection of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. This is project is part of an international collaboration that attempts to confirm the existence of dark matter in the universe.

Dr. Haaland was awarded a $150,000 grant in December, 2015 from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to fund the Southwest Innovation Corridor project in conjunction with the Telluride Foundation.


In the news

The Engineering program at Cornell University recounted the story of how Professor of Physics Ryan Haaland and a Cornell professor from Durango collaborated to send FLC students to Cornell to do summer research. [10/24/18]

"Amazing 'Red Lightning' Photographed from Space," LiveScience, August 2015

"At the Edge of Space,” PBS Nova, 2014

”Physics professor Ryan Haaland announced as 2014-2015 Featured Scholar,” Fort Lewis College

“His head in the clouds,” Durango Herald, 2012 


Publications and presentations

A New Global Array of Optical Telescopes: The Falcon Telescope Network,”  PASP, 2018.

20k: A 20 tonne two-phase LAr TPC for direct dark matter detection at LNGS,”  Eur. Phys. J. Plus, 2018.

Sprite beads and glows arising from the attachment instability in streamer channels,”  J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 2016.

High-Speed Observations of Sprite Streamers,” Surveys in Geophysics, 2013 

Charge rearrangement by sprites over a north Texas mesoscale convective system,“ Journal of Geophysical Research, 2012 

Diameter-speed relation of sprite streamers,” Journal of Physics, 2012 

High-Speed Imaging of Sprite Streams,” IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, November 2011 


Dr. Ryan Haaland is the 2014-15 FLC Featured Scholar, a recognition that honors one faculty member each academic year for their exceptional accomplishments in research and scholarship. 

About The Research

Dr. Haaland’s connections with the U.S. Air Force Academy helped bring Fort Lewis College together with several other universities to create the Falcon Telescope Network, an international partnership that surveys and tracks objects orbiting the Earth. His research is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The FTN will also be used for traditional astronomy and public outreach.

Dr. Haaland is also a leading researcher studying sprites, which are massive electrical discharges that happen above storm clouds. He and colleagues study thunderstorms in the Midwest to capture sprites on film. 

Dr. Haaland Explains his Work

“Here at Fort Lewis, we’re doing so many extraordinary things, and my hope is that we’re demonstrating that there is a new paradigm for what it means to be a liberal arts college. We involve students in high-quality research and engineering design because it gives them opportunities that help them better define what they want to do in the future. Our goal is to create well-rounded graduates who are 21st-century problem solvers. I’m here because I believe that passionately.”