November 2017 Letter From the Director

The Uniqueness of the Carnegie Science Approach
 
Carnegie departments differ from typical university departments in that we don't teach a formal curriculum. What student training we do is done one-on-one between staff scientists, postdocs, and visiting graduate students. While student training is essential for refreshing the pool of highly technical personnel required by the American and international workforce, universities do that job very well. Carnegie's focus instead is on basic research with the broad goal of discovering those things that will be taught in the university classrooms of the future. Our approach allows senior scientists to continue as hands-on scientists throughout their careers, building on the knowledge gained through their years of experience to stay at the forefront of discovery. This is not a solitary pursuit, however, as staff scientist mentoring of postdocs and visiting students provides an admittedly small group of people a level of detailed training that is hard to beat.

Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, October 2017. Credit: Michael Collela

Postdocs and students provide a continual flux of energy and new viewpoints that connect Carnegie with the international science community. That this approach is attractive to early career scientists is reflected in the fact that DTM received 145 applications for the 4 Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellowships available in last year's competition. The postdocs who apply to DTM are among the best early career scientists in the world, and the only thing keeping us from accepting more of our applicants is the budget to do so. At the other end of the training pipeline, almost all of the 132 postdocs that have passed through DTM over the last 17 years are now employed in academic or industry positions in every continent on Earth with the exception of Antarctica.


Community Support
 
Although the primary role of a Carnegie staff scientist is the execution of their research program and mentoring the respective postdocs and students, DTM staff use the time that otherwise would be devoted to formal classroom teaching in support of the scientific community. Our staff have served as Presidents of the American Geophysical Union (twice), the Geochemical Society (twice), the Mineralogical Society of America, the Geological Society of Washington, and as Vice President of the American Astronomical Society. Working with other science professional societies, DTM hosted the office of the Secretary of the American Astronomical Society from 2004-2010, and is currently hosting the business office of the Geochemical Society.
 
Our relationship with the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the largest professional society in the geosciences, dates back to its formation. AGU's first General Secretary was John Fleming, who served this role while a DTM staff scientist. DTM's founding Director, Louis Bauer, was AGU's second President. AGU operations and staff were headquartered at DTM from 1925 to 1956. What started as Louis Bauer's journal "Terrestrial Magnetism" became AGU's "Terrestrial Magnetism and Atmospheric Electricity," which eventually morphed into their premier "Journal of Geophysical Research." Both journals were published at DTM from 1904 until 1959.
 
DTM staff have served on the editorial boards of most of the major journals in the many fields covered by DTM science. One of our alumni, John VanDecar, has been senior geosciences editor at Nature since his departure from DTM. Our staff have been tapped to serve on a multitude of federal review committees ranging from Vera Rubin's service on the National Science Board to, most recently, Diana Roman's role in producing the National Academy of Sciences report "Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing."

 


 

DTM's first Director, and AGU's 2nd President, Louis Bauer (second from left) on board the Regina d'Italia on the way to the 1922 Rome meeting of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. Third from left in the photo is GL Staff Scientist Henry Washington, later to become AGU's 4th President. Credit: DTM Archives

DTM staff also have served key roles in the development of major community science initiatives. David James and Selwyn Sacks were heavily involved in the establishment of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and particularly in the Portable Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL). The tradition continues to the present day as Lara Wagner just stepped down as Chair of the IRIS-PASSCAL Standing Committee, the same committee chaired by David James from 2003-2006. Peter van Keken chaired the Geodynamic Processes at Rifting and Subducting Margins (GeoPRISMS) Steering Committee and was Director of the GeoPRISMS office. Erik Hauri has chaired the Reservoirs & Fluxes Directorate of the Deep Carbon Observatory since 2011. Alan Boss leads the DTM committee service by far as he has held 50 committee chair positions during his participation in about 200 committees, the most recent being as Chair of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group. These many roles in support of the science community come about not because DTM scientists have time on their hands, but because they are recognized leaders in the community who are not only skilled at guiding their own research programs, but have the skill, desire, energy, and commitment to contribute to the development of science in the U.S. and internationally. Perhaps the best recognition of DTM's recent major role in U.S. science is the award of three Presidential Medals of Science to former DTM staff, Vera Rubin, George Wetherill, and Sean Solomon.

A Presidential Goodbye

I suspect that most of you have heard that Carnegie's President, Matthew Scott, announced his retirement from the position at the end of 2017. I wish to take this opportunity to personally thank Matt for the support he provided to DTM during his presidency. Matt removed "Acting" from my job title, but more importantly was supportive as we went about rebuilding DTM's geophysics group, approving all the hires that brought the department back to its long-term allotment of scientific staff. Matt's interest in our science was genuine and enthusiastic. This was most clearly shown to me when he accompanied us for a week to the beautiful, but unbelievably buggy and remote, Northwest Territories to watch his highly paid staff scientists and postdoc wander around the uninhabited countryside breaking rocks with sledgehammers. Matt did an amazing job of bringing the widely dispersed Carnegie departments together through many actions, as best represented by his "Space, Earth, Life" promotion of the work done by Carnegie Science. DTM wishes him the best in whatever comes next in his remarkable career.

Matt Scott pursuing his passion for photography while assisting the field work near Big Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. In the background are DTM scientists Steve Shirey and Jesse Reimink, former DTM postdoc and now Canada Excellence Research Chair at the University of Alberta, Graham Pearson, and Carnegie Trustee Michael Long. Credit: Rick Carlson, DTM


Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science
 
November 2017 Newsletter
 

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