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Anne Thompson - Adventures in the Atmosphere - Part Two
May 13, 2014

[image-80]PART TWO OF TWO

Name: Anne M. Thompson
Title: Research Physical Scientist
Organization: Code 614, Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory, Ozone Branch, Science Directorate

Anne Thompson describes her career as an adventure in various ozone layers, including meeting Paul Newman at the tropopause.

Please tell us about being a professor.

For the past eight years, I was a professor in the Pennsylvania State University’s Meteorology Department in central Pennsylvania. I did my NASA job with students and post-docs. I remain an adjunct professor. My job is to get students excited about our satellites that measure precipitation, aerosols, pollution gases and surface properties, fires and the like. I also prepared students for careers with NASA and NOAA, trying to inspire them to public service. It’s great being around young people who bring a fresh perspective to environmental problems.

Why did you return to the Washington area?

Returning to NASA was the biggest draw. It is most important to keep collecting our data and I needed to be back at Goddard where the action is. I also enjoy the ethnic diversity, urban landscape and the vibrant cultural and political atmosphere. I like the museums and high-energy theater like the Woolly Mammoth.

[image-51]What did you learn from your 2011 Fulbright Scholarship to study pollution in South Africa?

I won a Fulbright Scholarship to study pollution in South Africa and to expand their use of satellite data. I saw first-hand aspects of environmental problems that were new to me. Millions of people have migrated to their cities, many of them very poor, living in shacks and burning coal and kerosene to cook and stay warm. As a result, over the past 20 years, southern Africa has experienced growing pollution even as regulations have cleaned up cars and trucks. New “mega-cities” are not unique to Africa. Our data show that part of South African pollution comes from South America.

Has there been a theme throughout your career?

I guess, since 1990, studying tropical processes—dynamics and pollution interacting, with a special interest in Africa—has been a constant.

[image-96]How did you get into pollution science?

I started as a lab-trained chemist. My first post-doc was at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. On my first scientific cruise, I didn’t get very good data, but other people discovered record-low pollution over the tropical Pacific. It was so exciting to see deep blue water, new countries and work with cool people. The experience prompted a career change for me.

What qualities should a scientist have?

Number one is curiosity. Number two are the people skills to work with teams and to put the mission first, whether it is NASA rocket science or the teaching I did as a professor. The third thing is to take risks and be creative. These are good guidelines for students. I give them a chance to get involved in great science and to experience the things that changed my life.

Do you have a favorite author?

Not really. I like several classic and contemporary writers. One of the most popular today, and one I like very much, is Alexander McCall Smith and his series about the African woman who solves mysteries from her No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The people and country of Botswana are just as Smith describes. They are so civil that they even shake hands in a certain way they deem to be extra polite. The rhythm of the author’s words reflects how the people speak. I have only seen Botswana briefly. The number one trip on my list is to return and take my husband on a safari in the Okavango Delta.

OF NOTE:  Anne M. Thompson is a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar and a 2014 Senior Goddard Fellow. She is also a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and winner of the 2012 American Meteorological Society’s V. E. Suomi Award.

Read Part One

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Anne Thompson  in Irene, South Africa
Thompson stands next to the NASA Pandora remote sensing instrument at the Irene, South Africa, weather station site, during her Fulbright Scholarship trip in May 2011. Winter grassland burning at the start of the annual dry season is seen in the background.
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Courtesy of A. Thompson
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Anne Thompson
Anne Thompson
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NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Pollution in South Africa
Dirty winter burning in an” informal settlement” of shanty houses. Charcoal, kerosene, and wood are used for cooking and heating in the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. This photo was taken in May 2011.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of A. Thompson
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Page Last Updated: May 13th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner