Precip Folks

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May 2022: Anju Vijayan Nair

Anju Vijayan Nair is a Ph.D. Student in Civil Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology. Her current research is focused on understanding the impact of hydroclimatic extremes (precipitation and temperature) on the water resources of glacierized catchments in High Mountain Asia.


  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

I am originally from the state of Kerala in India. Kerala is located in the southwest of India and is popularly known as 'God's own Country' for its stunning natural beauty. I completed my Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and Master's degree in Environmental Engineering from the College of Engineering Trivandrum, Kerala. After working as an Adhoc teaching faculty for one year in Kerala, I moved to the United States (US) to pursue my doctoral studies in Civil Engineering. I started my doctoral studies at Mississippi State University (MSU), focusing on assessing the water-energy-food nexus in the context of desalination for agriculture. Later I transferred to Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) to work with Dr. Efthymios Nikolopoulos on understanding the impact of climate change on the water resources of High Mountain Asia.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

During my undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering, I was introduced to Environmental Engineering and areas related to it. Solving environmental issues requires a solid understanding of environmental science and technology and its social and economic impacts, which motivated me to pursue my Masters in Environmental Engineering. As part of my MS thesis, I visited coastal areas in Kerala and investigated the potential use of silver nanoparticles for removing salinity in household drinking water samples. Later, when I joined for doctoral studies at FIT, I received exposure to hydrology and related research areas, including glacio-hydrological modeling, hydroclimatology, and remote sensing, which are fundamental for studying the earth's surface and sub-surface processes. This further paved my research interests.

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

I started my research journey during my Master's, where I was primarily looking into studying issues associated with drinking water in coastal areas and proposing sustainable solutions for the desalination of drinking water. Following that, I had the opportunity to work with Professors Farrokh Mistree and Janet K. Allen at the University of Oklahoma, and SunMoksha, a socio-technical enterprise in India, on a sustainable rural development project focusing on the water-energy-food nexus. The project helped enhance my intrinsic affinity for investigating environmental issues and their implications on socio-economic systems. After joining MSU, I worked with Dr. Veera Gnaneswar Gude on the modeling of water-energy-food nexus in the context of desalination of water for agricultural uses. As part of my doctoral studies at FIT, I am currently involved in the NASA High Mountain Asia Project, where my goal is to understand how the hydroclimatic extremes affect the water resources of glacierized catchments in Nepal and their effects on the downstream community.

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

Water, energy, and food are the primary resources required for life. My previous collaborations introduced me to the concept of water-energy-food nexus, which is central to sustainable development and is of utmost importance now. I envision myself evaluating the impact of climate change on water, energy, and food security by using state-of-the-art climate products and modeling techniques. Understanding the impact of changing water resources on the downstream community is of particular interest to me. I strongly believe in the role of education in positively impacting society. I believe in sharing to gain, and I look forward to bringing positive changes to the community with the knowledge and expertise I will be gaining through my research career.

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

Being a part of the NASA High Mountain Asia Team, I got opportunities to interact and collaborate with many senior professionals and fellow researchers from across the globe. This collaboration has been an immense learning experience and helped me acquire skills and knowledge to move forward in my research domain. I believe attending conferences, presenting our research to the community, sharing our work in the form of research papers, and getting to know the work of other experts in our field is the best part of being a researcher.

  • What are some of your hobbies?

Besides research, I am interested in singing, drawing, and cooking. I am a classical music vocalist trained in Carnatic music, a system of music associated with southern India. Being raised in a coastal state back in India and currently residing in the "sunshine state," I love beaches!

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?
First and foremost, I consider my parents as my greatest inspiration. My mother, Anitha Nair, who is a housewife, always advised my sister and me about the importance of education and a career in a woman's life. My father, Vijayan Nair, a retired bank officer, always supported my dreams and is my role model. After my parents, my husband, Dr. Anand Balu Nellippallil, motivates and supports me in my personal and research life. I am also lucky to have Indu, my loving sister, who is constantly there for my support. My advisor Dr. Nikolopoulos, mentors, all the senior researchers I have worked with, and my friends have guided and influenced me in molding the researcher in me.

 


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April 2022: Fraser King


Fraser King is a PhD.c at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. His current research focuses on the intersection of remote sensing and machine learning for estimating surface precipitation (with a focus on snow). His previous work examined the application of satellite data to characterize uncertainty and bias in current gridded precipitation datasets across Arctic regions.


  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?
I grew up in southern Ontario (approx. 2 hours away from Toronto) in a small, rural town called Clinton. As a farming community, it was easy to see how reliant everyone was on predictable weather patterns (and a stable climate) which was a significant motivator for me personally when entering this field of research. I actually received all of my post-secondary degrees from the University of Waterloo (UW) including a Bachelor’s of Computer Science, Master’s of Science and I am now working towards finishing my PhD. It was nice not having to move around too much and I found the resources provided by the UW to be excellent when I was figuring out what I wanted to do next.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?
I had always been interested in technology growing up which eventually led to me pursuing my computer science degree. I used to make tiny video games when I was in high school which taught me the basics of programming. As I previously mentioned though, I always felt like more could be done to help improve the lives of those who rely on accurate weather predictions and I felt like the work I was doing in tech in my undergraduate degree was not very rewarding in this regard. I wanted to do something where I could feel like I was making more of a real impact which led to a shift towards studying the Environment and pursuing a graduate degree.

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?
It always amazes me how quickly this field evolves. It sometimes feels like if you blink for too long, you may miss a major scientific advancement or new technology that has come out of nowhere. With the advances we are seeing in global computing power, along with the ever-expanding set of spaceborne remote sensing instruments providing terabytes of data each day, we are seeing significant advancements in this field every year. The combination of these two properties is allowing us to better understand the underlying physical relationships which govern the Earth’s extremely sophisticated water-energy budget, and the advanced computing power allows us to run even more complex models more quickly. 

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?
I am really excited for upcoming satellite missions like NASA’s Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) mission which is going to provide an incredible amount of new data on cloud particle properties, atmospheric convection and precipitation. These are areas which are currently highly uncertain in current climate models and are often thought of as a major source of error in global estimates. I am looking forward to seeing how the data provided from missions like these advance our current understanding of the global climate (specifically in regard to precipitation retrieval algorithms).

  • What is your favorite part of your job?
Getting to work on really interesting topics! That was one of the biggest motivators initially when I was figuring what to do after my undergraduate degree. Additionally, you also get to choose what you want to research which provides a great deal of personal agency in your day-to-day operations. The free cookies at the weekly coffee time meetups would be a close second favorite though.

  • What are some of your hobbies?
I really enjoy road biking in the summer along the quiet, rural Ontario roads that surround where I work. I wouldn’t be a true Environmental Scientist if I didn’t enjoy hiking/trekking I guess, and that is something I hope to return to doing soon. While I am not highly rated, I also enjoy playing chess (both on-and-offline) and I am a big fan of boardgame nights with friends.

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?
A combination of my parents and the other amazing precipitation Scientists continues to inspire the work I do each and every day. Reading amazing stories from the other precipitation folk interviews for instance is an excellent motivator for future projects. For this reason, I would highly recommend checking out some of the other interviews if you get a chance!

 


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March 2022: Noah Brauer

Noah Brauer is a Ph.D. candidate and Graduate Research Assistant in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma studying polarimetric radar observations and precipitation microphysics in tropical cyclones.



  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?
I am originally from Vancouver, Canada and ended up in Colorado where I eventually earned my Bachelor’s degree in geography with minors in mathematics and atmospheric science from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2015. I also took additional meteorology classes at MSU Denver. After working for over two years at a weather software company in Denver, I moved to Norman, Oklahoma where I received my M.S. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma in 2019, and later went on to pursue my PhD in meteorology.     

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?
I have always been obsessed with maps and geography in general. One memorable event that inspired me to pursue a career in meteorology was when lightning struck a pole next to my grandparents house in Cincinnati, Ohio when I was 6 years old. From then on, I kept a daily weather log, maintained a home weather station, and read books about the weather. I continue to have an endless curiosity about the atmosphere and why certain weather phenomena occur. 
More specifically, Hurricane Harvey occurred shortly after I started graduate school and I had many questions about how a single storm can produce 60 inches of rainfall over the same area in just a few days. This event really got me interested in radar meteorology, tropical cyclones, and cloud physics. 

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?
For my Master’s work, I focused mainly on ground-based polarimetric radar observations of Hurricane Harvey (2017). As I started my PhD, I began to compare ground radar observations of precipitation in tropical cyclones to space-borne radar observations of tropical cyclones. Both of these remote sensing methods have advantages and disadvantages, so using them together can help bridge the gap in a lot of our knowledge of precipitation processes in tropical cyclones. I have also participated in 5 field campaigns in landfalling hurricanes to collect mobile radar data, weather balloon observations, and disdrometer retrievals to better understand precipitation processes, characteristics, and variability in different parts of hurricanes.  Later on in my PhD, I constructed a global database of tropical cyclones using space-borne radar observations to investigate how precipitation processes vary globally in these storms. 

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?
There is still so much we don’t know about precipitation in tropical cyclones as they are difficult to accurately sample, especially when over the open ocean. I would like to improve our current algorithms to quantify precipitation in tropical cyclones (such as the particle size distribution), and compare these quantities throughout the entire evolution of tropical cyclones on a global scale. This will improve our representation of precipitation of tropical cyclones in numerical models to improve our current forecasting capabilities. 
Further, I hope to apply my knowledge of ground radar retrievals and space-borne radar observations to other high-impact weather events such as winter storms and mid-latitude convection.

  • What is your favorite part of your job?
I love being able to apply the theoretical knowledge that I have learned in numerous years of education to answer important science questions that have an enormous impact on people’s lives. The beautiful thing about research is that you can use your creativity to test new hypotheses and ideas that can ultimately advance our knowledge of the atmosphere, and why it does what it does. 
Teaching and mentoring students has also been an incredibly enjoyable and valuable experience throughout my time at OU. Sharing my passion for the weather with other students and seeing them succeed and further advance the science is very rewarding and makes me very optimistic for the future of our field. 

  • What are some of your hobbies?
Outside of academia, I love spending time with my friends, family, and cats. I also thoroughly enjoy hiking, biking, soccer, cooking, homebrewing, and traveling. 

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?
Where to begin…First and foremost, my mother, father, sister, grandparents, and friends for always supporting me and my (sometimes annoying) obsession with meteorology, whether that be constantly having The Weather Channel on the TV, or seeing me immediately rush to the window to watch a thunderstorm in the middle of social gatherings. My Calculus 1 professor during my undergraduate days for teaching me that math isn’t scary also played a big role in my academic career (I struggled with math throughout high school). In atmospheric science, Prof. Jeff Basara, Prof. Pierre Kirstetter, Prof. John Cassano, Prof. Keah Schuenemann, and Prof. Sam Ng (amongst many others) have been huge inspirations for always believing in me and for further generating my passion for meteorology. Last but not least, all of my fantastic colleagues and collaborators throughout my career.

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February 2022: Dr. Diego Cerrai

Dr. Diego Cerrai is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Connecticut, and Manager of the Eversource Energy Center.

  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

I am from Livorno, a city located on the coast of Tuscany, Italy. I received a bachelor degree in Physics from the University of Pisa. I then moved to Bologna, where I studied Physics of the Earth System for my master degree, with a particular focus on dynamical patterns leading to the formation of Mediterranean Hurricanes. I completed my education at the University of Connecticut, where I obtained a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, by focusing on weather-related power outage prediction using machine learning models.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

I’ve always liked the weather. When I was a child, I asked my parents to place a weather station at my home in Italy, and they bought one for me. Now that I am in the United States, my parents keep recording temperatures and weather conditions every day for me. Snow is the element I love the most, but I am attracted by any type of extreme weather events because I want to investigate their characteristics, to improve their predictability and mitigate their impacts. Right now, I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and specifically: (i) improving the understanding, representation and predictability of severe weather events through data assimilation; (ii) developing AI models for predicting the impact of weather events on the electric grid and on our forests; (iii) understanding how weather prediction uncertainty propagates into an uncertainty on their impacts.

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

When I started working on the UConn Outage Prediction Model (OPM), there was just a patent, and a model which worked in theory, but with limited skills in practice. I had a hard time in my first two years as a Ph.D. student to understand why the model was not performing, and I finally realized that the problem was that, through my knowledge, I needed to help the machine learning models in finding patterns that the models were not able to find themselves. This is what is called Physics Enhanced Artificial Intelligence (PEAI). Through my studies, I brought the physical understanding into infrastructure impact modeling, and many researchers now are following this path. Specifically, it is a general belief that adding more data improves machine learning modeling. In my studies, I found that slicing the data through physical understanding of processes (therefore decreasing the amount of data) significantly improves machine learning modeling. Now the UConn OPM is operationally used by some utilities along the U.S. East Coast to predict power outages in advance of storms.

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

Since this area of research is just a few years old, there are a lot of open questions which need to be answered. I expect this research to have explosive growth in the next decade, but I have no idea what the future holds.

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

Operationally predicting power outages for millions of people, by blending my personal knowledge of weather phenomena and their impacts with the outage model results. And the possibility to validate my predictions every day. When I make a prediction, the day after I can see what went wrong and why, and try to understand where to improve and to avoid the same error in the future. 

  • What are some of your hobbies?

My favorite hobby is fishing! I like fishing everywhere: in lakes, rivers, streams, at the sea…but I haven’t tried ice fishing yet! I also like to collect mushrooms, and chestnuts.

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?

My advisors. I feel very lucky because I always found advisors who were able to inspire me and push the envelope, by encouraging me to go beyond my limits and test innovative ideas. I am grateful to them!

Twitter: @diego_cerrai

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January 2022: Dr. Antonios Mamalakis

Dr. Antonios Mamalakisis a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, working on explainable artificial intelligence applied to climate science.

  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

I am Greek and was born and raised in Rethymno, a town in the island of Crete in southern Greece. I studied civil and environmental engineering with focus on stochastic hydrology and hydroclimatology in the University of Patras, Greece, where I received both my diploma and MSc, and in the University of California, Irvine, where I received my PhD in Sep 2020.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

As a kid, I was fascinated by math and wanted to become a mathematician, but while growing up, I started being more interested in applied mathematics and engineering. Later, during my undergraduate studies, I became interested in the water cycle and hydrology in general, and wanted to understand more about precipitation variability. During my graduate studies in Greece and the US, I worked on the statistical modeling of precipitation and extreme events, risk assessment, and to enhance understanding of the physical drivers of regional hydroclimate and increase predictability. Water is the most important aspect for life as we know it, and precipitation is the main input to the water cycle. Thus, understanding precipitation variability, its physical drivers (natural or external forcings) and increasing predictability across scales will always be my main area of research.  

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

I have been doing research on hydroclimatology for about 6 years now. Thus, not so many things have changed since I started. The general questions of the field (physical modelling of precipitation across scales, statistical representation of extreme events, climate change impacts, predictability, precipitation retrieval etc.) are still challenging and of high interest to the community, although progress has been made in many subfields. Research questions or objectives that were not as big 6 years ago include climate predictability on sub-seasonal to seasonal (S2S) timescales and the use of artificial intelligence and deep learning to solve all kinds of problems in hydroclimatology and geosciences in general. With regard to S2S, the main source of predictability is the Madden-Jullian Oscillation, and many researchers have been exploring its potential to push the envelope of climate predictability on S2S timescales during the last decade. With regard to the use of artificial intelligence (and specifically deep learning), many scientists in recent years have explored and highlighted its potential and predictive ability. I think it is definitely a new tool that needs to be added in the toolbox of any scientist.

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

I think that the use of artificial intelligence in our field is here to stay. Big questions for this decade include how to increase its trustworthiness, robustness and interpretability, and to develop knowledge-guided or physics-constrained methods. Second, compound events and their predictability have recently been and will continue to be a hot topic in the next decades. Lastly, the representation in climate models of precipitation variability in fine spatiotemporal scales has been and will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future. 

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

Since I was a little kid, I have been very passionate about figuring things out, whether this was the answer to a simple math problem in elementary school or understanding an unexpected/complex result in my research. The process of testing hypotheses and the pursuit of the unknown satisfy my scientific curiosity and bring to me the biggest sense of completeness I could ever get in any of the professions. Thus, I guess that being a researcher is a good fit for me :)

  • What are some of your hobbies?

There are many ways that I spend my spare time. First, I have to admit that I am very cinephile. I love watching movies, talking about movies, and reading critiques about movies. I like learning about cinema history, and making predictions about the Oscars. I also like to workout and try new sports. Lastly, I like singing and if I was not a researcher, I would probably be a mediocre singer somewhere back in Greece.

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?

Many people have inspired me since I was a kid. This includes math and physics teachers in elementary/high school, university professors, my academic advisors and mentors in Greece and in the US, but also people I never met, like historical scientific figures and prominent climate scientists and engineers of our days. It would be unfair to mention only a few of them; it is such a huge list!  

Tags: PrecipFolks

 

https://connect.agu.org/hydrology/about/committees/pretech/folks

 

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December 2021: Dr. Sungmin O

Dr. Sungmin O is a Research Professor at Ewha Womans University in Korea. 

  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

Hi! I am from Pittsburgh, but I don't remember there very well, so I will say that I am from Korea (I came to Korea when I was five years old). I studied environmental engineering and Hydrometeorology for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively, in Seoul, and then I worked in industry (consulting firm) for a while. When I decided to return to academia, I started my PhD studies at the University of Graz in Austria where my research in Hydrology/precipitation began. 

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

I chose the Hydrometeorology lab for my master studies among many other labs in the environmental engineering department, because I thought predicting the weather with a computer is cool! My master's research topic definitely influenced me to choose Meteorology for my Ph.D. after many years in the industry (industry people always asked me if I studied Meteorology to be a weather reporter, haha). I worked on the topic of precipitation during my PhD, and further on soil moisture and drought during my postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany. 

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

Extreme hydrometeorological events (e.g. heavy rainfall, floods, droughts) are being reported more and more frequently under the changing climate. Recent development in satellite sensors has begun providing a new opportunity, together with machine learning-based methods which can efficiently handle massive datasets, to obtain empirical evidence for understanding weather and climate extremes across regions. I have worked on satellite precipitation datasets to analyse their uncertainty, especially in observing heavy rainfall events. I am also interested in the propagation of precipitation uncertainty into other land hydrological variables through modelling. Currently, I am working to understand the rapid intensification of drought using observational-based data and machine learning algorithms. 

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

I believe that the use of machine learning in Hydrology and Earth science in general will be more and more popular in the next few years. We know that physically-based and machine-learning models have their own pros and cons; check out my paper on this topic ;) LINK. I think in the future, the so-called “hybrid modeling” or “hybrid approach”, combining physics and deep learning, will become one of the key methodologies to tackle challenges of hydrology research. 

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

I like research because I can work at my own pace. When I was at a consulting firm, I felt I was delivering outputs just to meet the deadlines set by clients, without deep understanding. However, in research, I work on studies that are driven by my own curiosity, and developed at my own pace. So, I enjoy the whole process of research, e.g. formulating questions, programming during night, discussing results with colleagues, publishing papers, and so on. 

  • What are some of your hobbies?

I enjoy riding a bike. I started long-distance riding when I was in Jena, Germany, because there was nothing else to do, haha. Since I came back to Korea, I started ‘Bike Passport’ - if you collect stamps from all of the bike trails across the country, you will get a medal! 

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?

Every person who loves their job including my supervisors, colleagues, and friends. Especially, female scientists like my mom who are leaders in their family and work inspired me a lot.

 

You can find me at, 

Twitter: @sungminoo

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November 2021: Dr. Shruti A. Upadhyaya

Dr. Shruti A. Upadhyaya is a postdoc at Advanced Radar Research Center, University of Oklahoma.

  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

I am from a small city in the southern part of India called Bijapur (Now known as Vijayapura). It is a historically significant, beautiful city with several famous monuments (FYI Gol Gumbaz is one of the ancient largest domes and I recommend visiting :) )

Professionally, I am a Civil Engineer who then went on to pursue higher studies in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Science (GIS). I did my undergraduate from Visvesvaraya Technological University, India, and Master’s and Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

I have always been motivated to serve society through my work. My training as a Civil Engineer pulled me towards better monitoring and modeling of hydro-meteorological variables using remote sensing observations. During my master’s, I explored a bit on retrieving evapo-transpiration using satellite observations. At the start of my Ph.D., I focused on precipitation from satellite observations with some validation studies across the Indian region. However,  given the dearth of ground observational networks in India and around the world, it did not take long to realize the need for near-real time observations of precipitation, specifically for flash flood monitoring. With my team, I started to develop precipitation retrieval models with low-latency observations from Kalpana-1 Indian geostationary satellite (GEO). Since then I have been working in this domain with new generation GEO satellites such as GOES-R using advanced statistical and machine learning tools and techniques.  

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

The launch of NOAA’s latest generation of GOES-R series of satellites has opened new opportunities in quantifying precipitation rates as high as 5 min temporal resolution. The challenge is to take advantage of this ever-increasing volume of environmental data collected from these satellites and the growing list of new sensors. With my team, we are working towards probabilistic quantitative precipitation estimation with geostationary satellites by effectively utilizing their unique strengths and focusing on developing trustworthy and interpretable AI models.

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

As I mentioned, I have always wished my research to be directly beneficial to society. I truly wish to see the model we have been developing to be supporting operational precipitation products and contributing towards improving forecasting of precipitation-related disasters such as flash floods and reducing aggravated societal and economic consequences. Having said that, the transition from research to operations is critical until hydrologists and meteorologists trust the AI techniques. By tracking the progression made by the community over the past few years, I foresee more of an AI-driven modeling/forecasting of hydrometeorological variables in an operational environment in near future. 

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy every part of my job, working with amazing people motivates me to strive for perfection. Waking up to the new challenges every day, be it a coding issue or learning a new concept, keeps me active and focused. Discussing with peers, reading incredible work by our precipitation community drives my enthusiasm to the next level.  

  • What are some of your hobbies?

I am a trained dancer in an Indian classical dance form called “Kathak”. Although I am unable to practice these days, I enjoy any form of dancing. I love cooking and traveling :) 

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?

There is so much to learn from everything and everyone around me. If I have to list a few, my first inspiration as a student was my family, and all my advisors Prof. E.P. Rao, Prof. RAAJ Ramsankaran, and Prof. Pierre Kirstetter, everyone has uniquely inspired me. 


You can find me at, 

Twitter: @ShrutiUpad20; 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shruti-upadhyaya-418023158 

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October 2021: Dr. Yoonjin Lee

Dr. Yoonjin Lee is a postdoc at Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA).


  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

I’m from Seoul, South Korea. I got my bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering at Ewha Womans University, but during my undergraduate years, I had a chance to study in France. I studied science at Université de Cergy-Pontoise (currently changed to CY Cergy Paris University) for a year and then transferred to Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie to study biology for another year. I received master’s and Ph.D. degrees in atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

I was initially into biology, but I realized I’m not good at lab work because I’m not very cautious and always make mistakes during lab experiments. When I was seeking for other topics that might be interesting, I took hydrometeorology class, and I got into climate/meteorology world. During my internship at hydrometeorology lab, my research focused on wildfire with changing climate, and I felt that I needed to study weather first to better understand climate. As I changed my major to atmospheric science in graduate school, I was influenced by my undergraduate advisor whose expertise was in data assimilation, and I wanted to learn more about data assimilation. Since satellite is one of the most common observations used in data assimilation, my research has been focusing on retrieving cloud properties from a satellite for data assimilation. 

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

My master’s thesis was about evaluating impacts of assimilating retrieved products from Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite to improve hurricane forecasts. After my master, I shifted gears and started to work with a geostationary satellite. Although it’s hard to get much information below cloud top from visible and infrared sensors on a geostationary satellite, it is still beneficial as it provides data over land and ocean in very high spatiotemporal resolutions. If we can get information of convective clouds from a geostationary satellite, it’d be extremely useful in initiating convection especially over the ocean where we lack observation. Therefore, my Ph.D. dissertation focused on detecting convection from Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) -16, obtaining latent heating from those detected convective clouds, and finally using the retrieved latent heating to initiate convection in the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. Meanwhile, I got into machine learning, and part of my dissertation includes applying a machine learning model to detect convection. I’m planning to continue using more machine learning methods to do various things throughout my post-doc.

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

I think that machine learning model is a powerful tool that allows us to extract more information from satellite data. We have plenty of satellite data, and it makes a perfect training dataset for machine learning model which requires large number of training data. Also, using machine learning methods can help reduce computational time for a complex problem such as model parameterization or data assimilation. However, we have to be very cautious when using machine learning model, and take it with a grain of salt because it might not mean anything physical. Thus, I think being able to explain how or why the model works will be as important as developing a machine learning model. 

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

I’ve been enjoying working as a postdoc because I got to collaborate with many researchers in different fields and explore various things. I like going to a conference or a workshop not just because I learn a lot from other people’s talk and get motivated by them, but also because I get to explore places that I never thought of visiting. I usually enjoy spending some time in the city after a conference. 

  • What are some of your hobbies?

I used to like playing tennis and hiking, but having my shoulder frequently dislocated and having some issues in my foot, I started to do things that don’t require much activity. I like everything related to art or music. I enjoy going to art museums and concerts. I also like to paint, and recently I started to customize shoes. 

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?

My two advisors inspired me the most. They both achieved so many things in their careers, yet they are constantly exploring new things and still very passionate about their research. They showed me how to become a good person as well as a good scientist. 

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September 2021:
Dr. Lisa Milani

Dr. Lisa Milani is an Assistant Research Scientist at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) - University of Maryland, working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

  • Where are you from, where did you receive your education, and what in?

I am from Rovigo, a little town in between Venice and Bologna, in the north east of Italy. I did all my studies in Ferrara, a town not far from mine, a master degree in astrophysics first and a PhD in atmospheric science then.

  • What first got you interested in the topics you chose to study?

I started my career in atmospheric science more by chance than choice, but after so many years I am really happy I got involved in it. The first few years of research were more driven by funding availability than choice, so I had to find a compromise between what I liked and the projects available at the time. The game changer for really understanding what I like to do was my experience at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Sciences in Rome where I started working on snowfall retrievals and I loved it! Snowfall has been my work topic since then.

  • How has your area of research evolved since you first started doing research?

I’ve been working on snowfall retrievals for almost 8 years now. Doing snowfall retrievals from active and passive microwave sensors is not easy and a lot still has to be done. Every day presents new challenges but on the other side many challenges from yesterday are addressed and solved. The snowfall studies field is very dynamic, and thanks to better computational capabilities we are now addressing issues that were not even imaginable 10 years ago. During my PhD, for example, I worked on precipitation retrievals using artificial neural networks in a time in which not so many people liked the idea of trusting machine calculations for realistic results. Nowadays machine learning techniques are widely used and continuously developed because we probably hit the limits of solely physical methodologies. As I said, it is a continuous evolution of tools and understanding.

  • Where do you see your area of research headed in the future?

Snowfall is one of the current main challenges in the precipitation community and many more scientists are investing their energies in it. I see myself working on this topic for several more years, probably taking advantage of new available sensors in the future, which will provide several answers, but at the same time will also present new unknowns and challenges.

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

I love interacting with people, I feel energized after workshops and conferences seeing how much there is still to do out there. And right after that I really enjoy the data analysis, that point in which you keep producing results from data to make a story about it and answer all the questions that arise in the process. 

  • What are some of your hobbies?

I have hundreds of hobbies, I stopped counting them. I get excited for almost everything and I love to learn new things. I love to cook, knit, crochet, sew, hiking, backpacking, biking, yoga, play board games, learning languages.. Should I continue?

  • Who has inspired you most throughout your career?

Everything started with my physics teacher in high school, she was really inspirational and in fact I studied physics at university. There are few key persons that inspired me after that, either as mentors or as great scientists. Let’s say, everyday I keep learning from the best!