In this talk, Dr. Lau tells the story of how world events, and the culture and education systems of three major continents, Europe, Asia and North America, shaped his upbringing, career goals and work ethics. He talks about his experience as a kid growing up under a colonial education system with strong Chinese cultural influence, his aspirations to pursue a career in physics, and how he accidentally entered the field of atmospheric sciences in the US. Then he discusses the evolution of NASA from a pure science (as far as he is concerned) to a mission oriented agency from the early 1980’s to present, with respect to his early work on air-sea interaction modeling (his PhD thesis), monsoon cold surges, ENSO instability; how he rediscovered the 40-50 day oscillations (a.k.a., the MJO) and the Pacific heating dipole from satellite observations; involvement in the formulation of the TRMM; how to make a time series sing; participation in TOGA-COARE and leading the SCSMEX monsoon experiments, and more recently, circumstances leading to the formulation of the “Elevated Heat Pump” (EHP) hypothesis on aerosol-monsoon climate interactions, and the Ying-Yang of floods and droughts occurrence under climate change. Finally, he talks about his decisions to take on positions as the Branch Head (now Lab Chief) in 1991, and then Chief of the Laboratory for Atmospheres (now Deputy Director for Atmospheres) in 2003, which marked two major bifurcations in his professional career. Dr. Lau has found the right balance and enjoyed his roles in both management and in science research. He is fortunate to have the diverse expertise, and the best and brightest minds around at NASA to bounce off new ideas on science, projects and missions.
Dr. William Lau, Deputy Director for Atmospheres, Earth Sciences Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center