NSF Boosts Atmospheric Science Students – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

NSF Boosts Atmospheric Science Students

As part of the ongoing and vibrant atmospheric science research taking place at HWS, the Geoscience Department this summer is welcoming seven student researchers, with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Five of the seven are supported by a three-year grant that follows from the work conducted during the NSF-funded Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field and research project, a collaborative effort that has brought together institutions from across the country to explore lake-effect snow systems in the vicinity of Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes. A new NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant supports the other two students to explore wintertime phenomena not initially proposed for investigation under the original grant but are related to findings from the OWLeS project.

“These research opportunities for students early in their undergraduate experience provide a nice stepping stone,” says Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird. “Students are coming away from the summer research projects more knowledgeable about the process of developing and conducting a research project. These early opportunities will also allow them to be competitive when seeking future research internships and scholarships, as well as when they explore career opportunities after graduation.”

Guided by Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz, student researchers will carry out a range of projects and scientific investigations during the eight-week summer internship. HWS students involved in the Atmospheric Science Summer Research group are Dylan Doeblin ’18, Emily Ott ’17 and Stephen VanHoesen ’18, as well as recent alum Caitlin Crossett ’15. Kelly Murphy ’16 from SUNY Oneonta, Jessica McDonald ’17 from St. Cloud State University and Zach Bruick ’17 from Valparaiso University are also joining the team. Crossett is also interning with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Binghamton this summer.

Working with Laird and Metz, the seven students will conduct both observational research utilizing the OWLeS data set and climatological research to work toward several scientific objectives: identifying how much snowfall different lake-effect systems produce; how ice crystal growth conditions in clouds affect snowfall accumulations in lake-effect and other types of snow storms; and the impacts that upper-level short-wavelength disturbances near the jet-stream level have on the evolution of Great Lakes lake-effect snow bands.

“The REU grant has allowed us to expand on what we have already accomplished in the original research grant,” Laird says. “We are able to investigate new research opportunities thanks to the NSF. We’re fortunate to have those additional funds to explore new aspects of winter storms that are not currently understood and ultimately will contribute to better forecasts of these situations.”

Metz says some of the areas of study this summer will also be partially derived from proposals that students crafted in class during the academic year. For example, one avenue of research that has come from this classroom connection will be how the rapid growth of ice crystals in clouds influences surface snowfall accumulations during lake-effect snow storms.

Metz says that it’s impressive that student projects completed in classes are of the caliber that they can be transitioned into more formal research projects. The connection between research and coursework is an approach that HWS Geoscience faculty routinely incorporate into their academic year courses.

As part of a mindful effort over the years, the Atmospheric Science Research group has been comprised of a greater number of students conducting research after only their first or second year as undergraduates.

“What’s really setting our group and the HWS Summer Research Program apart from other undergraduate scientific research internship opportunities is the high percentage of rising sophomores or juniors who are involved,” Metz says. “This is an opportunity for them very early in their careers. They are more than up to the task.”

This year, there were about 80 applicants nationwide for the HWS Atmospheric Science Research group. Laird and Metz have supported and supervised nearly 50 undergraduate summer research interns since 2005 with grants and funds from the NSF, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service and the Provost’s Office at HWS.

This is the second year funding to support undergraduate researchers has come from an NSF REU grant through the Physical and Dynamic Meteorology Program. The REU award last year supported two of the eight summer research students in the Atmospheric Science Research group: rising sophomores Shay Callahan ’17 from HWS and Lauriana Gaudet ’17 from Lyndon State College.

As in the past, the Atmospheric Science Research group will visit graduate programs, as well as private research and National Weather Service facilities, where undergraduates in the group will discuss their research and network with a variety of people in the atmospheric science community (e.g., graduate students, forecasters, potential graduate research advisers). Trips are planned to the University of Albany, Plymouth State University, Mt. Washington Observatory, and the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Binghamton. Laird and Metz say these experiences help to give HWS summer research students a greater awareness of future opportunities and connects them with people they may be working with in future careers.