Feature

Mlynczak's Work Honored by University of Missouri-St. Louis
09.25.07
Land. Sea. Air. Our Earth and its atmosphere -- the Earth's system -- are the primary foundation upon which life on this planet depends. Interested in Earth and atmospheric sciences all his life, NASA Langley Research Center employee Martin G. Mlynczak attended University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) to study physics. "I wanted to get a strong foundation in math and physics because atmospheric research is all physics based."

Mlynczak was presented the 2007 UMSL Distinguished Alumni Award on Sept. 25, one of many he has been honored with since building on the strong foundation he began cultivating as an undergraduate at UMSL. He was nominated by Dr. Bruce Wilking of the Department of Physics and Astronomy to honor his prolific work in the field of atmospheric science. "Dr. Mlynczak has established himself as a distinguished scientist with both a national and international reputation in the study of the energy balance in the Earth's atmosphere," says Wilking. "Because of his expertise, he has become a key player in the current debate over global warming."

Mlynczak is the recipient of numerous professional and academic recognitions beginning as early as his tenure at UMSL when, in 1980, he became a Rhodes Scholar candidate. Other recent awards or honors include the World Meteorological Organization Norbert Gerbier-Mumm International Award, 2005, the University of Michigan College of Engineering Alumni Society Merit Award, 2004, and the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, 2003. Colleen Watermon, UMSL alumni director at the time of Mlynczak's nomination, described the award as being "the highest alumni honor given by the university with only five per year currently awarded."

Marty Mlynczak.

Image Right: Marty Mlynczak in his office, located in building 1250. Credit: NASA/Eric Kerby

As an undergraduate at UMSL, Mlynczak says he was "fortunate to have received very good advice from professors who were genuinely looking out for the best interests of their students." As a result, Mlynczak has continued his collegial relationships into his professional life, nurturing the community that evolved from a tight-knit academic setting. "I guess you could say I graduated but never really left," he jokes.

Mlynczak characterizes the faculty under which he studied as having come in the early 1960s with great distinction to what was then a new campus. "These were professors who had studied under Nobel laureates. The top people in the nation were running these small programs, making it a top-notch university. In the '60s, few jobs were available for people with degrees in physics, so when the university was staffing this department, it was able to get the best and brightest from places like Harvard and Cal Tech." By the time Mlynczak began his academic pursuits in the 1970s, the Department of Physics and Astronomy was a well-established facet in UMSL's urban university environment.

Under the direction of some of the nation's brightest in the field, Mlynczak learned the basic steps to research working in the department lab with his advisor, Curator's Professor Dr. Jacob "Jake" Leventhal, which eventually led to his first job. Now a senior research scientist at NASA Langley, Mlynczak is involved in several space flight projects and suborbital flight projects for atmospheric research.

One current project is an instrument being built completely in-house at NASA Langley. Mlynczak and his team hope to begin decadal measurements that will launch what he calls "an improved accuracy spectral record that will provide benchmarks to study climate change from this time forward." The team is also working on comprehensive concepts applying technologies for Earth science missions that can eventually translate into capabilities for use in Mars missions.

Much of his research has been to develop and mature instruments to measure infrared and solar radiation in the atmosphere. Some of the instruments have been part of the high priority satellite missions of NASA's Earth Observing System, a group of satellites instrumented with sensors that are integral to long-term climatic studies. "We need to get measurements of energy as a function of wavelength -- to look at the entire amount of infrared and solar radiation -- to get into measuring spectra radiation very accurately in order to study climate and climate change in the long range," says Mlynczak.

The National Research Council's (NRC's) imperative for Earth science research and applications in the next decade and beyond indicates a strong need for Earth observations from space to meet societal challenges. The committee's report specifies: "Earth observations from satellites and in situ collection sites are critical for an ever-increasing number of applications related to the health and well-being of society." Mlynczak's work fits right in with the NRC's commitment to scientific discovery and development of applications that will ultimately support atmospheric research efforts.

The Researcher News
By: Denise M. Stefula
Langley Research Center
Managing Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Adams