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Advanced Study Program:
A change at the helm

In a way, Al Cooper has come home. The senior scientist with a joint appointment in two NCAR divisions (Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology, or MMM, and Atmospheric Technology) has been selected to direct the NCAR Advanced Study Program, where he first came to the center as a postdoctoral scientist. He assumed the director's post on 1 May, succeeding long-time director John Firor, who retired in February after heading the program for 15 years.

New ASP Director Al Cooper (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)
The Advanced Study Program (ASP) specializes in scientific symbiosis. It gives young scientists-graduate students and recent Ph.D.s-an early career boost by bringing them to NCAR and often providing funds for equipment or field studies. In turn, these visitors bring their new perspectives and creativity to enrich the center's research. Around 10 to 12 recent Ph.D.s are chosen each year (from an international applicant pool of about a hundred) for two-year appointments in ASP. A parallel program for graduate students was suspended in 1994 due to budget constraints, but the ASP Summer Colloquium, cosponsored with a different division each year, continues to draw hundreds of students to NCAR to study a single topic in depth over several weeks.

"While the postdoctoral scientists in ASP have made important contributions to the NCAR scientific program over the past three decades, I think the more significant influence of the program comes in other ways," said Cooper. "These scientists go on to assume important positions in our research and academic communities and they take with them the ties and impressions developed at this early stage in their careers. When this works well, we help broaden the perspectives of some of the best scientists as their careers develop, we forge collaborations that last much longer than the appointments, and we seed the field with scientists who know NCAR well and understand our mission."

Cooper's own NCAR roots go back to a position as an ASP postdoctoral researcher in 1973. He received his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of New Mexico and his doctorate, also in physics, from Columbia University. After his stint with ASP, he was on the faculty of the University of Wyoming until 1984. He returned to NCAR then, and has been a senior scientist since 1988. Cooper's ASP appointment will be a joint one with MMM, where he will continue his research in cloud physics.

John Firor
In announcing the appointment, NCAR director Robert Serafin noted that "for decades ASP has provided opportunities for recent Ph.D. graduates to start their research careers here at NCAR, where they have been exposed to the breadth of scientific and technical activities at the center and have been able to interact with our staff and our many scientific visitors from around the world. ASP postdocs have distinguished themselves as researchers and as scientific leaders." The program's alumni include NCAR division directors Maurice Blackmon (Climate and Global Dynamics Division), Brant Foote (Research Applications Program), and Susan Solomon (Atmospheric Chemistry Division); Michael Glantz, head of NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group; Stephen Schneider (Stanford University), Robert Dickinson (University of Arizona), and Eric Barron (Pennsylvania State University). "My list of former fellows," says Cooper, "includes 41 NCAR scientists (16 of them senior scientists) and 68 faculty members at universities."

Firor has been with NCAR from the beginning, and has served as director and executive director of the center. His doctorate work at the University of Chicago led him to his first contact with the High Altitude Observatory (HAO) and NCAR director-to-be Walter Orr Roberts in 1954. Firor was studying cosmic rays from the sun and building a neutron monitor. "We needed a high-altitude location and access to roads and power," he recalls. "We contacted this fellow in Colorado, Walter Orr Roberts, and he agreed to let us build the monitor at the Climax Observatory." This ultimately led to Firor's appointment as an HAO visitor in the late 1950s. In 1961, shortly after NCAR was established, he was asked to be the HAO director and associate director of NCAR. In 1968, when the positions of UCAR president and NCAR director were separated, Roberts, who had held both positions, retained the former and Firor assumed the latter. Six years later, when a new UCAR president, Francis Bretherton, reinstated the dual role Roberts had held, Firor's title was changed to executive director, a role he continued through 1980, when he joined ASP.

Firor began his "retirement" with a three-month sabbatical in Washington, D.C., working with a group of economists at Resources for the Future. The group, which brings economic theory to bear on public policy planning relevant to resources, was set up 35 years ago by the Ford Foundation. As of June, Firor is back as a senior research associate at NCAR, where he plans to work closely with the NCAR Environmental and Societal Impacts Group and concentrate on his recent interest in "how our work in atmospheric science fits into broader studies of global change and into international and national policy." Also high on his agenda is a new book he hopes to write jointly with his wife, Judith Jacobsen, a faculty member at the University of Denver and a specialist in population issues.

This summer's ASP colloquium, led by David Schimel (head of UCAR's Climate System Modeling Program), focused on terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. For more information on the colloquium or on ASP, contact Barbara Hansford (303-497-1601 or barbm@ucar.edu). The Web site is at http://www.ucar.edu/edu/aspdoc.html


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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
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Last revised: Tue Apr 4 09:33:26 MDT 2000