UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > August 2001 Search

August 2001

A down payment on the future: NCAR doubles its junior scientist ranks

With one massive wave of hiring, NCAR is more than doubling the number of its junior scientists and ensuring the center will remain on the cutting edge of research for years to come.

The organization is bringing on board 10 scientists from an array of backgrounds and disciplines—the biggest single expansion of NCAR's scientific staff since 17 junior scientists were hired in 1991. The diverse and highly talented class of new researchers plans to focus on such topics as water resource management, the carbon cycle, atmospheric remote sensing, mineral aerosols, ozone chemistry, adaptive observation networks, and various solar phenomena.

"They're very high caliber," says NCAR director Tim Killeen. "I think this is very important for NCAR. If you take the history of the last decade and you look at where we are and what we're poised to accomplish, it's a wonderful opportunity for the organization."

He adds with a smile: "I'm pinching myself."

What makes this round of hires particularly noteworthy was the innovative approach of asking applicants what type of research they would like to do for the organization—rather than seeking scientists for predetermined disciplines.

"This was a search for the best people, not to fit any particular scientific area," explains Al Cooper, director of the Advanced Study Program. "We were looking foremost for scientific leadership and the people to determine NCAR's future."

Al, Tim, and UCAR president Rick Anthes each played a key role in the hiring process. Al chaired a nine-person search committee that screened some 170 applicants before forwarding the names of the finalists to the Directors Committee. The three men then sat in on every interview. An HR representative (usually Norma Beasant) was also present at most of the interviews, as were scientists familiar with the scientific area of each applicant.

The high quality of the applicant pool made it difficult to pare down the list. Although NCAR initially planned to hire just four junior scientists, it ultimately hired six because the finalists had such sterling qualifications. NCAR divisions hired an additional four scientists.

"It was a very competitive process," Tim says. "The caliber of the applicant pool was extraordinary. . . . I think it's a testament to the university system that's producing these people."

Rick and Tim helped engineer an innovative funding system to pay for the new hires, under which 50% of the money is coming from Rick's office, 25% from Tim's office, and 25% from NCAR divisions. In two years, the divisions will pick up the full salaries for the new scientists. Tim, who was concerned that years of flat funding had resulted in an aging workforce tilted toward senior scientists, explains, "We found a way to break that logjam."

Some of the new staff have already begun working at NCAR; others will be arriving in the fall or at the beginning of next year. With the 10 hires, NCAR's corps of early-career scientists is increasing from 9 to 19.

Tim expects to bring on still more scientists within a couple of years. "This is only a down payment on what we need to do. My hope is to have a continuum of hiring."

And that, he explains, will ensure that NCAR continues its leadership on atmospheric issues. "We've got the people, we've got the ideas, and we've got significant new resources," he says. "Our appetite is a big one. There's so much important science to do."

The ten new staff scientists:

Arturo López Ariste. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Arturo López Ariste

Arturo is a physicist who studies the Sun's magnetic field by using spectropolarimetric observations, which plot the polarization state of light at a range of wavelengths. His principal research interests are inversion codes for solar spectropolarimetric data, group theory approach to the transfer of polarized lights, and polarimetry in solar physics.

Arturo has been a postdoctoral fellow in ASP and HAO since January 2000. A native of Spain, he received a degree in theoretical physics and astrophysics from the University of Zaragoza before earning a Ph.D. with highest qualification in astrophysics and spatial techniques from the University of Paris.

Heidi Cullen.

Heidi Cullen

Heidi, who is finishing her assignment as a postdoctoral research scientist on a NOAA Climate and Global Change Fellowship at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction in New York, comes to NCAR with expertise in two distinct areas: history and climate variability. She earned a bachelor's degree in Near Eastern religions and history from Juniata College before going to Columbia University for a bachelor's in engineering and operations research and a Ph.D. in climate variability.

Combining her interests, Heidi has studied historic drought and climate variability in the Middle East as well as the application of forecasts to water resource management in the La Plata Basin of South America. Her doctoral research at Columbia focused in part on the dynamics of the North Atlantic Oscillation as well as its impact on freshwater supplies in the Middle East.

In ESIG and CGD, she will test whether the use of climate models can improve water resource management at the world's largest hydroelectric plant: the Itaipu Binacional hydropower facility, which provides power to Brazil and Paraguay. The challenge is to prevent flooding without unnecessarily curbing energy generation.

Sarah Gibson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Sarah Gibson

Sarah, a visiting fellow at HAO since February, is researching coronal mass ejections—the eruptions of large amonts of matter from the Sun's outer atmosphere that can affect sensitive electronics systems on and orbiting Earth. Her recent work has focused on sigmoidal magnetic fields. These twisted, S-shaped fields may be precursors to coronal mass ejections, which means that scientists may be able to use them as forecast tools for severe geomagnetic storms.

Sarah, who graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in physics, received her master's and Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado. After a brief postdoctoral stint at HAO, she went to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as a National Research Council postdoctoral research fellow and then worked as a research assistant professor in physics at Catholic University. From 1999 to 2000, she was on leave from Catholic University as an NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge in England.

Natalie Mahowald

Natalie will focus on mineral aerosols and tropospheric transport as a member of CGD. Her interest in this area stems from its potential importance in driving climate and biogeochemistry. Like many NCAR researchers, she believes that some of the most interesting problems in the environmental sciences lie between traditional disciplines, and she looks forward to greater collaboration across disciplinary boundaries.

Natalie graduated from Washington University with degrees in both physics and German before earning a master's in natural resource policy from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She comes to NCAR from a position as assistant professor at the Bren School for Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Daniel Marsh. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Daniel Marsh

Dan wants to increase understanding of ozone chemistry and the energy balance of the atmosphere. To this end, he will help analyze data about the mesosphere and lower thermosphere from the Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) satellite that NASA expects to launch toward the end of this year. Working with colleagues in ACD, he will also be involved in the development of several models, including the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM).

Dan became a postdoctoral fellow in ASP in 1999, investigating the influence of dynamics on the distribution of minor constituents in the middle and upper atmosphere. He received his bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from the University of California, Berkeley, before going to the University of Michigan for a master's and Ph.D. in atmospheric and space sciences.

Rebecca Morss. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Rebecca Morss

Rebecca studies the connections between observations, weather forecasts, and society, concentrating on scientific and public policy aspects. For her Ph.D., she focused on developing adaptive observation strategies to improve numerical weather forecasts. She is continuing that work, exploring issues in the design of observing networks, data assimilation, and predictability. Because this research places a strong emphasis on helping society through improved forecasting, she is also working with users of forecasts (such as emergency managers) to learn how they apply weather information to their operations.

Rebecca earned a B.A. in chemistry from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been a postdoctoral fellow in ASP since March 2000. She will split her time between MMM and ESIG.

James Smith, one of NCAR's 10 new junior scientists, makes adjustments to his nanoparticle chemical ionization mass spectrometer, an instrument for determining the chemical composition of nanometer-size particles in the atmosphere. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

James Smith

Jim's primary research interest at ACD is studying the physical and chemical properties of atmospheric aerosols. He wants to develop techniques to probe the chemical composition of ultrafine aerosols—those with diameters from 4 to 20 nanometers. Such research would answer questions about how aerosols are formed and grow in the atmosphere. It would also supply an important link between aerosols and gas-phase precursors and could thus provide a connection between emissions and the nature and abundance of aerosols.

Jim joined ASP last year as a postdoctoral fellow. He received his bachelor's degree in physics from Harvey Mudd College in California and then worked in the field of optical partical sizing at Aerometrics Inc. in Sunnyvale, California, before obtaining his Ph.D. in environmental engineering science from the California Institute of Technology. He also spent a year as a visiting fellow in the lidar group at the Lund Institute of Technology in Sweden.

Britton Stephens. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Britton Stephens

Britt, who has been a visiting fellow at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), will specialize in airborne, tall-tower, and ship-based measurements of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide. By investigating the biogeochemical cycling of carbon, he hopes to improve predictions of future CO2 levels and to study strategies to reduce levels of the greenhouse gas.

Britton earned his Ph.D. in oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he designed and built an oxygen analyzer using vacuum ultraviolet absorption, and he made measurements on ships in the equatorial Pacific and the Southern Ocean. After completing his bachelor's degree at Harvard University, he spent two years studying CO2 exchanges in forest ecosystems for the U.S. Geological Survey. At CIRES, he also studied oxygen and CO2 variations, adapting a commercial fuel-cell oxygen analyzer for autonomous tall-tower measurements in Wisconsin and collecting flask samples as part of COBRA, the CO2 Budget and Rectification Airborne study.

Peter Thornton

Peter, who comes to CGD from the University of Montana, specializes in studying the effect of natural disturbances on the net exchange of carbon. His goal is to quantify the interactions of terrestial, atmospheric, and oceanic carbon levels and to analyze the impact of elevated carbon levels on vegetation.

As an undergraduate, Peter studied biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, which gave him an understanding of feedback systems. Switching emphasis from a single organism to an entire ecosystem, he earned his master's degree in geography and environmental engineering at Hopkins by studying paleoclimatological controls on vegetation dynamics in a tidal estuary. He earned his Ph.D. in 1998 at the University of Montana, where he subsequently worked as a research associate in the School of Forestry.

Guifu Zhang. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Guifu Zhang

An engineer and physicist, Guifu specializes in wave interactions with random media and in atmospheric remote sensing. His goal at RAP is to develop innovative remote sensing techniques that will lead to a better understanding and monitoring of the atmosphere.

Guifu came to RAP as a visitor in 1998 and became a Project Scientist I the following year. He earned his B.S. in physics from Anhui University and his M.S. in space physics from Wuhan University in China before receiving a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Washington. Highlights of his work at NCAR so far include developing an algorithm to retrieve raindrop size distribution from polarimetric radar measurements, proposing a cross-correlation method for determining three- dimensional wind, and improving multifrequency radar and radiometry techniques for icing detection.

• David Hosansky

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Last revised: Wed Aug 8 15:59:34 MDT 2001