About NASA Ames

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Choose Work You like with a Small Dose of Practicality

Leonhard Pfister
Photo Credit: NASA Ames Research Center / Eric James
“I enjoyed science in high school, and I was good at it.” Those words reflect most what influenced the career direction of Leonhard Pfister, a research atmospheric scientist in the Earth Sciences Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Encouraged by his parents to work hard and do well in school, Pfister attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and planetary science. As an undergraduate, he discovered that he preferred science theory to laboratory research. He also received practical advice from his mother, who advised him to pursue a career other than music, even though he considered himself “a pretty good musician.”

“The inspiration I received early in life was mostly by example,” recalled Pfister. “My dad and his colleagues worked hard and valued education.”

After graduating from MIT, he moved to Seattle, Washington to get a doctorate in atmospheric science at the University of Washington. Five years later, Pfister started his career at NASA as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate, working at Ames as a planetary research scientist. Today, he is an atmospheric scientist in the Earth Sciences Division at Ames. As part of his job, he supports major NASA airborne science missions by providing meteorological and weather forecasting leadership and guidance.

Pfister says NASA is an excellent employer. He appreciates NASA’s mission-oriented approach to accomplishing research goals. For instance, NASA uses Earth science satellite and aircraft missions to provide a better understanding of specific atmospheric problems, such as ozone depletion or climate change

“NASA offered me an opportunity to do work that I liked doing,” said Pfister. “The exciting part of NASA is being involved in missions, participating in making observations, and seeing new results at the first point of discovery.”

Even as a senior scientist, Pfister admits that his biggest obstacle in his career is writing papers. “Communicating results to others is an important part of the research process. To overcome it, I just sit down and do it -- no secret method.”

If he were to give “words of advice” to those about to select a career, he would encourage them to do work they like and are good at. “Expose yourself to a variety of activities, both at school and outside. In this process, a dose (but not an overdose) of practicality is appropriate.”

Selected Recent Aircraft Field Experience

Summer, 2007, mission meteorologist, TC4 January-February, 2006, mission meteorologist, CR-AVE January-February, 2005, mission meteorologist, PAVE

Selected Journal Publications since 1993

Pfister, L., et al, A Meteorological Overview of the TC4 Mission, J. Geophys. Res.,115, D00J12, doi:10.1029/2009JD013316, 2010.

Sayres, D. et al, The influence of convection on the water isotopic composition of the TTL and tropical stratosphere, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D00J20, doi: 10.1029/2009JD013100, 2010. (Co-author)

Selkirk, H. B., et al, The Detailed Structure of the Tropical Upper Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere as Revealed by Balloonsonde Observations Of Water Vapor, Ozone, Temperature and Winds During The NASA TCSP And TC4 Campaigns, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D00J19, doi: 10.1029/2009JD013209, 2010. (Co-Author)

Jensen, E. J. et al, Ice nucleation and cloud microphysical properties in tropical tropopause cirrus, Atm. Chem. Phys., 10, 1369‐1384, 2010. (Co‐Author).

Jensen, E. J., and L. Pfister, Implications of Persistent Supersaturation with Respect to Ice in Cold Cirrus For Stratospheric Water Vapor, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, doi:10.1029/2004GL021125, 2005

Jensen, E. J., et al., Formation of a tropopause cirrus layer observed over Florida during CRYSTAL-FACE, J. Geophys. Res., 110, D03208, doi;10.1029/2004JD004671, 2005. (Co-author).

Jensen, E. J., and L. Pfister, Transport and freeze-drying in the tropical tropopause layer., J. Geophys. Res., 109, D02207, doi:10.1029/2003JD004022, 2004

Jost, J. et al, In-situ observations of mid-latitude forest fire plumes deep in the stratosphere, Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, L11101,doi:10.1029/2003GL019253, 2004 (Co-author)

Ridley, B., et al, Convective transport of reactive constituents to the tropical and mid-latitude tropopause region: I. Observations. Atmospheric Environment, 38, 1259-1274, 2004 (Co-author)

Pfister, L. et al., Processes controlling water vapor in the Winter Arctic Tropopause Region, J. Geophys. Res., 108, SOL57-1-15, 2003.

Spang, R., et al, CRISTA observations of cirrus clouds around the tropopause, J. of Geophysical Research,107, CRI-2-1-18, 2002. (co-author)

Pfister, L. et al., Aircraft Observations of Thin Cirrus Clouds near the Tropical Tropopause, J. Geophys. Res.,106,9765-9786, 2001.

Alexander, M. J. et al, , Tropical stratospheric gravity wave activity and relationships to clouds, J. of Geophysical Research, Vol. 105,.22299-22311, 2000. (co-author)

Jeker, D., et al, Measurements of Nitrogen Oxides at the Tropopause -- attribution to convection and correlation with lightning, J. of Geophysical Research,. 105, 3679-3700, 2000. (co-author)

Holton, J. R., et al, Stratosphere-Troposphere Exchange. Reviews of Geophysics, 33, 403-439, 1995. (Co-author)

Pfister, L., et al, Gravity waves generated by a tropical cyclone during the STEP Tropical Field program: a case study, J. of Geophysical Research, 98, 8611-8638, 1993

Pfister, L., et al., Mesoscale disturbances in the tropical stratosphere excited by convection: observations and effects on the stratospheric momentum budget, J. of the Atm. Sci, 50, 1058-1075, 1993.