Random Profile: Scott Spuler
Every other month, "Staff Notes Monthly" spotlights a stochastically chosen staff member. This month we profile Scott Spuler, an optical engineer in the Atmospheric Technology Division.
A recent arrival: Scott started here just a bit more than a year ago. He has a Ph.D. in applied optics/engineering systems from the Colorado School of Mines, as well as a solid background in chemistry and spectroscopy. After getting his doctorate in 2001, he worked for a telecommunications start-up—briefly. “When the bubble burst, I was one of many people looking for work,” he recalls. Fortunately, ATD was looking for an optical engineer to help design lidar systems, and Scott had the needed expertise. “I like applied optics,” he says, “because it consists of taking ideas in physics and using them to build instruments.”
Safety first: One of Scott’s main goals is to help design lidar systems that can depict aerosols, water vapor, and other atmospheric characteristics without causing damage to human retinas. A lidar (the acronym stands for “light detection and ranging”) emits pulses of light to detect atmospheric particles much smaller than those detected by radar. Many lidars, however, are not eye-safe. For that reason, scientists can’t use them near airports or in urban areas, greatly limiting the amount of data that can be collected.
Scott, working with ATD scientist Shane Mayor, is exploring ways to shift the wavelength into the infrared spectrums. That way, he explains, “The light is absorbed in the lens of the eye and won’t be focused on the retina where the damage occurs.”
DIAL: Scott’s also involved in a joint project with the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, to design a differential absorption lidar, known as DIAL. The instrument is designed to detect atmospheric water vapor. By sending out pulses of light at two different wavelengths, which are tuned to peak (maximum water vapor absorption) and nonpeak (minimum), the instrument is capable of extremely sensitive water vapor volume measurements. For the water-vapor DIAL,Scott designed a 1-meter telescope to receive the backscattered light pulses that are reflected back to the instrument after scattering off small particles and molecules.
Enjoying the pace:
After the roller coaster ride from school to start-up company, Scott says
he really likes the pace at NCAR. “It’s in between academia
and industry,” he says. “You have a little more time here
than at a start-up to get down and understand physics.”
Worst accident: One activity that Scott continues to enjoy is trail running—although he’s grown more cautious. Running on snow in January 2002, he took a bad fall and suffered a spiral tibia fracture in his leg, which is an injury often associated with downhill skiing. Unable to help himself, he lay in the snow for an hour until someone found him. Now he always runs with a friend or carries a cell phone. Despite the injury and subsequent surgery, he was able to take part in this year’s Up-the-Hill races, finishing with an impressive time of 11:58.