From a View of the Grand Canyon
to a Vision of Science in the Twenty-first Century


There was standing room only at the Boulder Public Library auditorium for friends, family, colleagues, students, and community members who gathered for UCAR’s 2nd Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture honoring Dr. John Firor on October 19, 1999.

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Tim Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, introduced John Firor. Here, Mr. Wirth (back row) is accompanied by Wren Wirth, Janet Roberts, Judith Jacobsen, and John Firor.


Janet Roberts presented the Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture award to John Firor in memory of her husband, in whose honor this lecture series is established.

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Dr. Warren Washington (left), the first Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture honoree, congratulates John Firor at the reception following the program.
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    John Firor is an internationally recognized expert on public policy issues related to atmospheric sciences, including climate change, and sustainable development. He is a physicist by training whose scientific research led him into high-energy astrophysics and radio astronomy, with a side trip into seismology and continental structure. In 1961 he joined the staff and management of the newly formed National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) as the director of the High Altitude Observatory, which had merged with NCAR. He later served as director of NCAR. He led the Advanced Study Program of NCAR for a number of years, and, during a field research program conducted in Montana by NCAR and a number of universities, he served as a pilot of an instrumented sailplane making measurements inside growing thunderstorms. He was a member of team observing solar eclipses in New Guinea, Kenya, and from a jet aircraft operating from southern Brazil. He is now a Senior Research Associate of NCAR.

As a teacher he was a visiting professor at Caltech, the University of Wyoming, and the University of Minnesota, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Senior Wirth Fellow at the University of Colorado at Denver. He toured as a national lecturer for Sigma Xi and was a Barnaby Lecturer for the National Soaring Museum.

Honors bestowed upon Dr. Firor include election as Fellow of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book, The Changing Atmosphere: A Global Challenge has been translated into ten other languages and received the AMS’s Louis J. Batten Author’s Award. He has chaired a number of advisory committees: NASA’s Space Applications Advisory Committee, the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Data Interchange, and the organizing committee for the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society. Service on national and international boards included trustee and chair of the Environmental Defense Fund, founding trustee of the World Resources Institute, and trustee and program secretary of the International Federation of Institutes of Advanced Study. In Boulder he was president of the Colorado Music Festival and also of the Boulder County YMCA, and he participated in the creation of the Boulder County Healthy Communities Initiative.

John and his wife, Judith Jacobsen, an expert on sustainable development and population growth, have an extended family of four grown children and two grandchildren.

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