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Spring 2000

Tim Killeen appointed NCAR director

by Bob Henson

Editor's note: The following article is excerpted from a longer interview in the March issue of NCAR's Staff Notes Monthly, which is available on the Web.

Tim Killeen. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Tim Killeen has been selected the new director of NCAR, taking office on 1 July. He joins NCAR after more than 20 years at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (UM), where he has been a leader on several research and education fronts. A native of Cardiff, Wales, Killeen earned a bachelor's degree in physics and, in 1975, a doctorate in atomic and molecular physics, both from University College, London. He is president of the Space Physics and Aeronomy Section of the American Geophysical Union.

Killeen called himself a "reluctant leaver" of the university setting. "I've thrived in it, been completely committed to it." He's had long ties with NCAR, though; he first came as a visitor in 1976 and has spent four summers in Boulder as a visiting scientist. Recently, Killeen has collaborated with Ray Roble's group in NCAR's High Altitude Observatory on high-resolution modeling of the upper atmosphere's global circulation. "So I have some background with NCAR," he summarized, "but I'm coming from the perspective of a university professor--teaching undergrads, running a research group, collaborating with NCAR from the outside."

Balancing classroom and laboratory

Killeen's résumé includes an unusually strong blend of teaching, research, and administration. At Michigan, he is a professor in the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences Department and serves as associate vice- president for research. Killeen leads a group of 15 scientists and engineers who are using a combination of theoretical and experimental techniques to investigate the upper atmospheres of earth and other planets. He also directs the UM Global Change Laboratory and is past director of its Space Physics Research Laboratory. As an administrator, he's worked to increase UM's capabilities in computing, environmental science, geographic information systems, materials science, transportation research, and undergraduate education. He has been honored with both the Excellence in Teaching and the Excellence in Research awards from UM, along with two NASA achievement awards.

Killeen leads the UM Aeronomical Observatory Program, which includes five remotely operated optical observatories from Chile to the Arctic's Resolute Bay. Each site has spectrometers, all-sky cameras, and Fabry-Perot interferometers, whose development originally brought Killeen to Michigan as a postdoctoral scholar. (Fabry-Perot interferometry involves differences in the number of pairs of reflections made by wave paths along a single dimension, as when reflected by facing mirrors.) His group recently built a miniature spaceborne version of the Fabry-Perot instrument for a NASA mission to be launched later this year.

"I'm certainly not ready to give up my research interests," Killeen said. "I think NCAR will fare well with a director who is an active researcher. I think it's an important aspect that will help me maintain a peer relationship with other scientists." He also is counting on his work as editor in chief of the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics to keep him abreast of his field. "Of course," he noted, "I recognize that my first responsibility will be to direct the institution. That's going to be my prime role."

Better ways to teach undergrads

Killeen takes a keen interest in improving college-level teaching. He is chief scientist for Institution-Wide Reform of Undergraduate Education, an NSF-funded program at UM, and is the founding director of NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Killeen has served as director of Ann Arbor's campus- wide sequence of introductory courses in global change.

"I think integrating research and education at all levels is critically important for informed decision-making and a literate populace. Universities play a major role in that," said Killeen. "About half of all U.S. kids go to postsecondary institutions. I'd love to see NCAR play a leadership role in these reform efforts--helping to build more active learning strategies.

"A lot of reforms are done on a 'hero' or 'heroine' basis. The sustainability of such reforms becomes problematic when someone goes on sabbatical or when somebody retires from an instructional team that's been working together. I think it's important to have some infrastructural underpinnings."

In particular, Killeen emphasized, giving undergraduates a chance to carry out research is vital. "They become more confident, they can solve logistical problems, they feel they're participating in the life of the institution. One-on-one research experiences are clearly powerful."

NCAR's present and potential role in university education was one of the biggest drawing cards in Killeen's decision to come here, he said. "I see it as an important part of the NCAR mission and one that's already very exciting- -there's a lot going on. The fact that NCAR's a national center with a dot edu on the tag is particularly important to me. I'd like to see NCAR step up the pace of its interactions with the university community, not just in research but also in education. I believe that the universities will respond--they'll recognize and be thankful for any help they can get."

Outgoing NCAR director Bob Serafin (left) chats with Killeen and UCAR President Rick Anthes. Serafin has been appointed director of the American Meteorological Society for 2001. His tenure as NCAR director ends in April, but he will remain at NCAR for the rest of the year, working on a variety of projects. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Making his mark

Killeen said he already has some sense of what he'd like to build on as director. Global change is a natural for expanded collaborations, he said. "There could be some exciting partnerships forged between academia, industry, and NCAR. I think NCAR can provide a lot of the muscle that would make these partnerships worthwhile. Of course, NCAR should undertake these sorts of things with the recognition that its prime mission is basic research--to perform cutting-edge research in breadth and in depth."

As a long-time user of NCAR computing resources, Killeen has high hopes in this realm as well. "I think there's an interesting future of interfaces with the public domain, academia, industry, and other institutions." In this environment, he said, "the role of a national center can be thought of in broader terms: to facilitate, to explore, to access data stored in lots of different areas--inhomogeneous data, visualizations, high-performance computing. NCAR's [already] been a leader in all of that."

Killeen's appointment was received with clear enthusiasm in Boulder and at NSF, said UCAR President Rick Anthes. "Tim impressed me and the search committee with his perceptive answers to questions about NCAR's future, including challenges and opportunities. He has shown a deep understanding, desire, and excitement to lead [NCAR] into the future." According to Cliff Jacobs, the NCAR program officer at NSF, "For years Tim has helped both the atmospheric sciences [division] and geosciences [directorate] formulate some of their plans. We're really pleased because he has true leadership quality as well as being an outstanding researcher. We believe his continued contributions to research and management will be significant."

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Thu May 4 14:53:14 MDT 2000