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Alexander Marshak - "Cloud and Snow" Scientist Hails From Above the Arctic Circle - Part Two of Two
September 30, 2014

[image-51]PART TWO OF TWO

Name: Alexander Marshak
Title: Deputy Project Scientist for the Deep Space Climate Observatory
Formal Job Classification: Physical Scientist
Organization: Code 613, Climate and Radiation Laboratory, Atmospheric Sciences Directorate

Growing up with “blowing snow days” in a town above the Arctic Circle, physical scientist Alexander Marshak now studies blowing snow, clouds and aerosols through satellite images.

Who was your mentor at Goddard?

For many years I have been working with Warren Wiscombe, an atmospheric scientist who studied clouds. He taught me about radiation transfer in clouds and atmosphere. He is a great scientist, a great man and a great character. I read his papers while I was still in the Soviet Union. He was first my boss and then became a colleague and a friend. I learned a lot about America from Warren. He even introduced me to pumpkin pie, which I have since grown to enjoy very much.

Are you a mentor now?

Yes. Unconsciously, I find myself acting with my mentees the same way that my mentor did with me. Most importantly, he gave me a lot of freedom and I try to do the same with mine.

I tell my mentees that you have to love what you are doing. Science is not only fun, it also requires some necessary routine work. Once you generate ideas, you have to find a way to test them. Frequently your ideas do not lead anywhere. It’s a hard, long road to validate your hypothesis.

[image-78]What are some of the differences between living in the former Soviet Union and living in America?

In Russia, we have no equivalent to the American phrase “take it easy.” My generation was not taught how to recover from losing. We were expected to win all the time. For example, if you applied for a job, you were expected to get the job. If you wrote a proposal, your proposal was expected to be selected. So, if these things did not turn out as expected, I did not know how to recover quickly.

I was lucky that I got a job here. But when my first proposal was declined, it was very personal and painful to me.

Later, with my mentor’s help, I learned how to analyze and learn from these kinds of situations. I still don’t really “take it easy,” but I’m getting better at it.

As someone who grew up above the Arctic Circle, do you enjoy snow?

Yes, I do very much. Where I grew up, we didn’t have snow days because we had snow from October to April, but we did have “blowing snow days.” These were days when the wind was blowing so hard that we couldn’t open the front door and could hardly see beyond a few yards.

Here in Maryland, children enjoy snow days when schools are closed. In contrast, we didn’t like blowing snow days. Now I feel that I have settled my score with blowing snow because I can detect it and study it using satellites.

Do you have a favorite Russian food?

My specialty is cold borscht, which is excellent in the summer. You take one jar of pickled beets; add some ham, two eggs, two potatoes, a cup of buttermilk, one cucumber and a bunch of chives. The liquid from the pickled beets spices up the dish. This serves two people.

Who is your favorite author?

I love O. Henry’s stories. I initially read them in Russian. I even memorized many of them. Now I also enjoy reading them in English. I like his expressive language and his heroes. One of my favorite stories is “The Last Leaf.”

Check out Alexander Marshak's Maniac Lecture:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dxn6n6qD_8

Check out Part One of Alexander Marshak's interview.

Read more Conversations With Goddard

Also read about what our people do Outside Goddard

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Marshak at this desk. His desktop image is of Georgia O'Keeffe painting of clouds in keeping with what he studies.
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NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Marshak with Warren Wiscombe
Marshak with Warren Wiscombe. Image taken at the Oklahoma ARM (Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program) site circa 1995.
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Page Last Updated: September 30th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner