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June 1997

ASP returns to its roots--while branching out

For almost two decades, the Advanced Study Program's Graduate Fellowship program allowed doctoral student to gain experience at a national lab while completing a dissertation. Budget cuts in 1993 forced a gradual end to the fellowships, in favor of preserving ASP's larger program for postdoctoral researchers. Now, only a year after the last graduate fellow departed, a new crop (albeit a small one of three or four) will be arriving at NCAR this fall.

Barb Hansford, Al Cooper, and Judy Miller. (Photo by Curt Zukosky.)

The return of the grad students is one of several recent changes in ASP. It's been just over a year since cloud physicist Al Cooper took over as program director from the retiring John Firor. The essentials of ASP--particularly its esteemed postdoc program--aren't being tinkered with. However, a few enhancements are entering the mix.

First and foremost, the postdocs

The lion's share of ASP's $2 million annual budget goes to postdoctoral support. These fellowships were established soon after ASP was founded by the late Phil Thompson in 1964. As Phil put it, they were meant ". . . to draw into the atmospheric sciences additional talented and highly trained people from the mother sciences of mathematics, physics, and chemistry." At the time, atmospheric science was still struggling to be seen as a bona fide discipline, so the fellowships were designed to lure outstanding students who otherwise might have chosen another specialty.

As NCAR's prestige and the field of atmospheric science grew, so did the pool of postdoc applicants. "In response," says John, "the emphasis shifted from attracting new students to our field in favor of giving young scientists a chance to participate in forefront research before assuming a teaching or research position elsewhere."

One of the cherished--and unusual--features of ASP postdoc positions is their no-strings-attached quality. Divisions and programs are consulted during the selection process, but once postdocs are accepted for two-year stints, they may embark on any project they feel they can pull off. "We monitor their progress and try to identify problems early, but we always leave final responsibility for research choices with the fellows," Al says. "We think that any occasional weakness in their research plans is more than balanced by the benefits obtained by giving them scientific responsibility."

The list of ASP postdoc alumni--334 in all--reads like an excerpt from Who's Who in Atmospheric Research. (See sidebar "Whatever happened to the classes of 1967-97?") From 15 to 20% have come to ASP from other countries. Al is pleased to note that the percentage of women in the program has risen from 10-15% in the early 1980s to rough parity today. Last year about one-third of the applicants, and a majority of the appointees, were female. Ethnic diversity remains fairly low in the applicant pool as well as among the final appointees, a concern of Al's. "It's also a broader institutional concern," he adds, noting that the situation helped spur development of the SOARS program (see article elsewhere in this issue).

While fewer in number than the postdocs, the ASP graduate student alumni (84 in all, hailing from 36 universities between 1977 and 1993) include such noteworthy researchers as Susan Solomon (NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory), Diana Liverman (a MacArthur fellowship winner at the University of Arizona), and Russ Dickerson (University of Maryland). The program tailed off slowly for several years after 1993 as remaining students finished their work. According to Al, though, "several of the recent reviews of NCAR divisions called for the resumption of this [graduate fellowship] program and testified to its value." The rejuvenated program will operate at a "modest level" for the time being, he adds.

Inside work

ASP isn't the only home for postdocs at NCAR and UOP. The High Altitude Observatory and the UCAR Visiting Scientist Programs offer positions for recent Ph.D.'s. Cooperation among these programs is increasing, according to ASP administrator Barb Hansford. "We will try to work more closely with HAO and VSP to coordinate advertisement of deadlines," says Barb. "One of our hopes is to present a more cohesive picture to graduates of the various opportunities available at NCAR."

Another tool to help ASP reach across programmatic lines is its "Showcase" seminar series launched last fall. These monthly general-interest seminars are meant to introduce ASP postdocs to the breadth of NCAR science, to help the postdocs mix with other resident scientists, and to foster internal awareness of NCAR science. Some of the presenters and topics to date include Sasha Madronich (photochemistry of ultraviolet radiation), Peter Hildebrand (data from the Electra Doppler radar), Jack Herring (two-dimensional turbulence), Jeff Kiehl (clouds and the earth's radiation balance), Jim Wilson (convective storms), and the 1996 Outstanding Publication Award winner, Steve Tomczyk (solar magnetic structure).

"Because the speakers and the topics were selected by the divisions, the Showcase presentations highlighted some of the most significant recent scientific advances at NCAR and were presented by some of our best speakers," says Al. The seminars are now on summer hiatus; a new set will begin in September.

Since 1994 ASP has also served as home base for the Geophysical Turbulence Program (GTP). Over 20 researchers from all of NCAR's science divisions participate in GTP. The program holds annual workshops and other activities that delve into the underpinnings of turbulence theory and its applications, from atmospheric predictability to astrophysical convection. The program also serves as a way for scientists to cross disciplinary boundaries, either individually or in collaboration with others. For instance, physical insights discovered through the simulation of vortex lines are being applied by Bill Hall, Bob Kerr, and Terry Clark to Front Range windstorms, while the dynamical methods used in the simulations are being applied by Bob to study the reconnection of magnetic fields in the solar corona.

Here comes El Niño

With the long and involved 1997 appointment process behind them, there's no rest for ASP administrators. They're now gearing up for the annual summer colloquium. This year it's "A Systems Approach to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)," to be held at the Mesa Lab from 20 July to 1 August. With an all-star cast of ENSO researchers on hand, organized by ESIG's Mickey Glantz, the meeting will include keynote lectures, roundtable discussions, and hands-on demonstrations. The goal is to understand ENSO as a subsystem of the Earth-Sun system as well as a complex entity with physical and social subsystems of its own. About 35 to 40 attendees are expected, most of them graduate students and recent Ph.D.'s.

The meeting should be a timely one. A new El Niño is taking shape in the tropical Pacific. Mickey points out that, before the landmark 1982-83 event, conventional wisdom held that there was a "typical" El Niño. After that point, there was wider recognition that no two ENSO events were alike. "The idea of this meeting is to broaden our thinking about ENSO-related processes," says Mickey. "I'm not looking to make these students multidisciplinary, but I'm hoping to expose them to a broader perspective, not just on ENSO but on climate-related phenomena in general. My hope is that the students will remember this multidisciplinary experience and will call upon other attendees from other disciplines that they meet now to work together sometime in the future, when they're ready to do so." •BH

Whatever happened to the classes of 1967-97?

It's easy to track down former ASP postdocs by their trail of accomplishments. As of January, there were 4 ASP alumni at the scientist I level within NCAR, 9 at scientist II, 10 at scientist III, and 14 senior scientists:

Byron Boville
Al Cooper (ASP director)
Ron Errico
Brant Foote (RAP director)
Peter Gilman
Mickey Glantz
Rick Katz
Jeff Kiehl
Joe Klemp
Peggy LeMone
Ray Roble
Rich Rotunno
Piotr Smolarkiewicz
Joe Tribbia

Among the many former ASPers now in faculty positions:

Eric Barron (Pennsylvania State University, departed ASP in 1981)
James Coakley (Oregon State University, 1973)
Petr Chylek (Dalhousie University, Canada, 1973)
Ken Davis (University of Minnesota, 1994)
Leo Donner (Princeton University, 1984)
Brian Hoskins (University of Reading, England, 1971)
Ralph Keeling (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1990)
Sharon Nicholson (Florida State University, 1977)
Da-Lin Zhang (McGill University, Canada, 1988)

Back for more

Tammy Weckwerth

A few ASP graduate fellows have returned to the program several years later as postdoctoral fellows. Such was the case for Tammy Weckwerth, who studies convection and the boundary layer. Tammy worked with Jim Wilson in 1992-94 while completing her doctoral thesis at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tammy scored a rare coup for a grad student: the use of the University of Wyoming's King Air, along with ground facilities, to support her research. Tammy investigated convective roll structures--the long, narrow, low-lying features that are one of the most common forms of boundary-layer convection (and whose associated clouds resemble rolls of French bread).

Returning as a postdoc in 1995, Tammy expanded her research to investigate the sensible heat flux and boundary-layer depth required for horizontal convective rolls to develop. Her research has practical applications in forecasting roll occurrences and their effects on the horizontal variability of temperature, winds, and moisture. The work could prove useful in thunderstorm simulations and predictions.

"ASP is an excellent program which has provided me with unbounded opportunities," says Tammy. "As a graduate fellow, I was able to interact with NCAR scientists whose research I had learned about in my courses. As a postdoc with complete scientific freedom, I have been able to explore several different research avenues and collaborate with many scientists. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this program, which will undoubtedly help me open doors to my future." •BH

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu