Navigating Scientific Borderlands and Subcultures

Presenter: Dr. Joe Bassi
Date: Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oct. 23rd, 2014, Dr. Joe Bassi, from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University –

In celebration of American Archives Month, the NCAR Library and Archives presented "Successfully Navigating Scientific Borderlands and Subcultures: Astronomer Walter Orr Roberts, the Sun-Earth Connection, and the National Center of Atmospheric Research,” a talk by Dr. Joseph P. Bassi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Arts and Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The National Science Foundation created NCAR as the U.S.’s premier location for atmospheric studies in the late 1950s. Walter Orr Roberts helped to create NCAR and then became its first director. However he was neither a meteorologist nor an atmospheric physicist. He was a well-regarded solar astronomer and observatory administrator who had never done any research directly in meteorology or atmospheric physics. The question arises, how did a scientist with minimal background in atmospheric physics become the founding director of a major research institution for this field of scientific investigation? This paper shows how Roberts negotiated between two disparate science subcultures — astronomy and meteorology — by exploiting a disciplinary borderland between these fields, the study of the sun-earth connection. Sun-weather studies demonstrate the practical (earth-based) applications of solar research which enticed sponsorship from private donors.

 Dr. Bassi completed his PhD in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara in June 2009. He specialized in the history of modern U.S. science. Most recently, he was a senior project engineer with the Aerospace Corporation supporting national security space efforts at Vandenberg AFB. In addition to the PhD, he has graduate degrees in Meteorology from Penn State, Astrophysics from the University of Colorado, and History from the George Washington University.

Topics:Sun and Space Weather
Audience:General public, Graduate/professional
Copyright 2014: UCAR/NCAR