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Paul Newman - A Diplomatic Physicist
January 28, 2014

[image-110]Name: Paul Newman
Title: Chief Scientist for Atmospheres
Formal Job Classification: Physicist
Organization: Code 610, Earth Sciences Division, Earth Sciences Directorate

Chief Scientist for Atmospheres, Paul Newman, is the most diplomatic scientist at Goddard. He is one of four co-chairs to the United Nations Science Panel for the Montreal Protocol. 

What interesting work are you doing today that helps support Goddard’s mission?

Today, I’m watching a real-time feed on my monitor showing the location of one of NASA’s Global Hawks. The flight started in California and, in another seven hours, will arrive in Guam. I’ll spend most of next month helping conduct flight operations in Guam.

Guam is in the mid-80s today. However, the coolest spot in the planet is about 55,000 feet directly above Guam at the tropopause, the dividing line between the lower atmosphere or troposphere where all our weather occurs, and the stratosphere, where we find the ozone layer. Right above Guam it is currently 190 kelvins or about minus 120 Fahrenheit. That’s really cold. The reason why this area is so cold is because 55,000 feet in the air is between two heat sources, one from ozone absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and the other from Earth’s surface, which is heated by absorbing the visible radiation.

What is your typical day?

On a normal day, I spend a lot of time working on airborne field missions. I have worked on about 17 airborne field missions at Goddard. My latest, which involves the NASA Global Hawks, is the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment, which studies moisture and chemical composition in the region of the upper atmosphere where pollutants and other gases enter the stratosphere and potentially influence our climate. Two of the Global Hawks are also involved with the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel Mission, which examines hurricane formation and intensity changes. I will spend most of August and September at Wallops Flight Facility working on this mission.

[image-78]How do the Global Hawks help conduct science?

The Global Hawks are based at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center as part of NASA Headquarters’ Airborne Sciences Program. We have two operational aircraft, one for spares and two yet to be converted for science operations.

The Global Hawk’s wing span is 116 feet, about the same as a Boeing 737, but it is only 45 feet long. Each plane is equipped with instruments in the tail, nose, wing and belly. As the plane flies along, the instruments take little sips of air to measure, for example, ozone, water, carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons and even tiny ice particles.

Global Hawks do not have a pilot in the cockpit. How do flight operations work?

The Global Hawk is an unmanned aircraft system. This plane can fly itself. The pilot sits in a control room at Dryden. The pilot uses a mouse and a keyboard, not a joystick. To taxi, the pilot clicks on a box. The program asks if the pilot really wants to taxi and then the pilot confirms. The same thing happens for takeoff and for all other flight maneuvers.

Each plane has two cameras, one on the nose and one under the belly looking down and forward. We use the cameras to see and avoid clouds, but there are rarely any clouds or much of anything else at 55,000 feet.

The control room is divided into two parts by a glass partition. The pilot, copilot and a few others flying the aircraft sit in the front part where it is quiet. About 20 scientists, including people from other NASA centers, NOAA and various universities, sit in the back discussing the mission.

Why did you become a physicist?

My senior year in high school, I worked at a Walden Books store in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. One coworker had a Ph.D. in history and the other had a master’s in sociology. Neither could get a job in their field.

I went to a career fair at Seattle University with a friend who wanted to talk to someone at the math table. The math table had a long line, but the physics table next to it had no one, so I went to the physics table.

It was almost by luck that I became a physicist. Although I loved history, living in Seattle, I knew that scientists could find jobs.

How did you come to Goddard?

I came to Goddard in 1984 as a post-doctoral fellow after I got a Ph.D. in physics from Iowa State. All of atmospheric science is based on chemistry and physics. I was a contractor briefly and then became a civil servant in 1990.

The great thing about arriving in 1984 is that when I got here, there was a lot of excitement about a large depletion of ozone over Antarctica called the Antarctica Ozone Hole. There was so much work to be done. At the time, we were sorting through three different theories of formation and there were so many papers to read.

Who is one of the most inspiring people you’ve met here?

Mark Schoeberl, who is no longer with the agency, helped me get my post-doc and then also helped me figure out how to do science at Goddard. He was a Senior Fellow and a physicist as well as a former Chief Scientist.

Did you plan your career?

Throughout my career and life, I just do the things I think should be done and that will be productive, interesting and fun. I have some short-term goals, but I never map out anything.

[image-51]So how do you decide what to do?

I follow the perfect master view of life. I have a mental vision of certain people I admire and ask myself what they would do in any given situation. Likewise, I try not to do what the perfect anti-master would do.

For me, the perfect master is my father. The perfect anti-master is anyone who is poor at what they do, like George Costanza from “Seinfeld.” I have to admit that I think George was a hilarious character.

How do you stay interested in what you’re doing?

Everything eventually gets a little boring. You have to be open, talk and listen to people and find out what they’re doing. There’s a lot of “conventional knowledge,” but most of us don’t know or can’t find the basis for that knowledge. A lot of this knowledge is not right or not well-founded. So I try to go outside my comfort zone to explore that knowledge and to learn new and interesting things.

A bad day is when I learn nothing. A good day is when I learn a lot. Many times, learning just means talking to the brilliant people in the hallways.

Tell us about the badge on your wall that reads “Scientific Assessment Panel, United Nations.”

The Montreal Protocol of the United Nations, to which the United States is a signatory, regulates chlorofluorocarbons from aerosols spray cans and refrigerators, which can destroy the ozone layer. The United Nations has three panels: the scientific assessment, technical and environmental effects panels. For the last seven years, I have been one of four co-chairs for the Scientific Assessment Panel of the United Nations.

Every four years, we produce a book called “The Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion,” which is the science basis for the Montreal Protocol. As part of the job, I go to big, diplomatic meetings twice a year, typically in June or July and again in November. Two-thirds of my travel is for these meetings or travel for Montreal Protocol issues. If the countries associated with the Montreal Protocol have a scientific question, it comes to all four co-chairs.

Although I’m a U.S. government employee for NASA Goddard, I am technically a United Nations’ delegate at these meetings. I am not a member of the U.S. delegation and cannot even enter their delegation room. I don’t sit with them in the meeting room either.

Is it different working with diplomats as opposed to scientists?

Diplomats are a very different breed than scientists. Scientists solve the world’s problems through equations; they are very direct. Diplomats are much more non-linear thinkers and speak almost in code. If a diplomat has to say something that is not so nice, he first says two nice things. A scientist would just directly say the not so nice thing. Also, diplomats wear suits.

Is there something surprising about your hobbies outside of work that people do not generally know?

When my daughters were young, I coached a lot of soccer. Now that they are grown, for the past ten years, I’ve volunteered as an archaeologist with the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. I help with a dig at the Mt. Calvert Historical and Archaeological Park, the original county seat for Prince George’s County. I often spend Saturday screening, sifting dirt through a screen to filter out debris to find artifacts.

Archaeology appeals to my historical side. I enjoy discovering things about the past. I also love working in the field, in the open air. Sometimes I can see bald eagles, ospreys, turtles and deer. It’s cool.

If you could meet and talk to anybody, living or dead, who would it be and what’s the first thing you’d ask them?

[image-94]I’d talk to one of my early American ancestors. I don’t know much about the Newman family, but I did locate Alexander Newman, born in 1796 in eastern Tennessee who was of English descent, fought in the war of 1812 and was illiterate. It would be a lot of fun to learn more abut my ancestors, what kind of people they were and what they were like.

Why were you named Paul Newman?

I tell people I just had a star struck mother, but actually, I was born before the actor Paul Newman had made a hit film, I am named after St. Paul the Apostle. My name once helped me get a stretch limo and uniformed driver at the Toronto Film Festival. The driver, however, was very disappointed. After getting dropped off at the airport, I met Wayne Knight, who played Newman on “Seinfeld.” Everyone was walking past him growling Jerry Seinfeld’s famous line “Hello, Newman.”

Of Note: Paul Newman is a 2014 Goddard Senior Fellow and one of four co-chairs to the United Nations’ Scientific Assessment Panel for the Montreal Protocol.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Dr. Paul Newman at the Montreal Protocol
Paul Newman at the 24th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (12-16 November 2012, Geneva, Switzerland).
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Courtesy of Paul A. Newman
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Paul Newman standing next to the Global Hawk.
Paul Newman standing next to the Global Hawk.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of Paul A. Newman
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Paul Newman standing next to the other "Newman."
Paul Newman standing next to the other "Newman."
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of Paul A. Newman
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Dr. Paul A. Newman
Dr. Paul Newman, with his headset on, ready for work!
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of Paul A. Newman
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Page Last Updated: January 28th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner