Lamont Weekly Report, October 12, 2012

The first full round of Major League Baseball playoffs and a debate between Vice Presidential candidates remind us that we are in the month of October.
In late-breaking news last week, the DEES Graduate Student Committee announced that Lorenzo Polvani was named the DEES Teacher of the Year for 2011-2012. Lorenzo accepted the award immediately before last Friday’s Earth Science Colloquium. The colloquium was given by Lamont and DEES alumna Carol Raymond, now at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Deputy Principal Investigator for the Dawn spacecraft mission. Carol presented a summary of Dawn’s observations of Vesta, the second largest asteroid and the parent body for an important group of achondrite meteorites.
A beautiful fall day on Saturday provided an exhilarating backdrop for Lamont’s Open House. Community interest was so high that by afternoon there was reported to be a long line of automobiles waiting for parking space in the Dolce Palisades conference center. The 3860 students and guests in attendance enjoyed 15 tents full of hands-on science, visits to laboratories across the campus, and a diverse menu of talks and panel discussions on Lamont, a sampling of our scientific programs, alumni career paths, and the myriad interfaces between Earth science and society. Congratulations to Stacey Vassallo and the hundreds of Lamont volunteers who invested time and inspiration to ensure that our guests had a memorably engaging experience.
Lamont hosted two meetings this week in marine geology and geophysics. On Monday and Tuesday morning, the Ocean-Bottom Seismometer Instrument Pool (OBSIP) Oversight Committee met in Lamont Hall, and on Tuesday afternoon the committee was treated to a tour of Lamont’s OBS facility led by Andrew Barclay. On Wednesday and Thursday, Maya Tolstoy hosted the Cascadia Initiative Expedition Team, who met to plan the next stage of seismic exploration of the Juan de Fuca plate and Cascadia subduction zone. A personal treat for me was the attendance of three of my former students at one or both meetings.
On Thursday morning’s meeting of the Council of Deans, chaired by the Provost, one of the principal topics discussed was university housing for faculty and postdoctoral fellows. Columbia is projecting a shortfall in such housing over the coming decade, and as one step in addressing that issue the Provost’s office has sent a questionnaire to all current tenants asking for information to validate continued qualification for such housing. (I received such a questionnaire in yesterday’s mail.) Other options to address the possible housing shortfall are under discussion.
On Thursday afternoon, Art Lerner-Lam and I met with Naomi Schrag, Columbia’s Associate Vice President for Research Compliance and Training, along with Ed Silver, from the Office of General Counsel. Naomi (whose second cousin is Harvard geochemist Dan Schrag) is leading Columbia’s efforts to address export control issues for the R/V Langseth and for Lamont more generally.
That same afternoon, I visited the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory to meet with Co-Director Frits Paerels and with Caleb Scharf, who heads that laboratory’s efforts in astrobiology. On two earlier occasions, Caleb and Frits worked with an interdisciplinary group that included several scientists from Lamont to seek funding from NASA for a center for astrobiology that would encompass research on extrasolar planets, interstellar and solar system organic chemistry, and the origin and early evolution of terrestrial life. Several Columbia astronomers are interested in reviving that effort, possibly in connection with the “origins” research theme in the draft strategic plan for the sciences at Columbia. If there are those at Lamont who might be interested in contributing to new discussions about such an activity, please let me know.
Today I hosted a lunch for Lamont’s Research Scientists and Senior Research Scientists. We held a free-ranging discussion over a broad sweep of career issues for staff members with such appointments, including professional development, support, and representation. Completion of a Research Scientist Handbook, now in draft stage, will permit further discussion of how each of these issues should best be addressed.
I hope that you will join me shortly at Lynn Sykes’s colloquium this afternoon on the seismic monitoring and verification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. And if your favorite Major League Baseball team is still in the playoffs, may they advance to the next round.