Applied Mathematics Professor Tiffany Shaw Named Packard Fellow

October 16, 2012
The figure above is of the weather-in-a-tank apparatus, which Tiffany Shaw (pictured at right) uses to demonstrate atmospheric phenomena such as fronts, convection, the general circulation of the atmosphere, flow over a barrier and the flow in a hurricane. In the experiment illustrated here, Shaw has combined the two main ingredients that control the general circulation of the atmosphere, namely Earth’s rotation and differential heating (warm equator, cold pole). The ice-water bath at the center mimics Earth's 'pole' and the water outside is at room temperature with the outermost region mimicking the warm 'equator.’ The tank is slowly rotating creating a laboratory analog of the circulation in the tropical atmosphere. The purple dye shows the movement of water at the bottom of the tank in a southwest direction toward the ‘equator,’ which is consistent with the earth's trade winds. The green dye illustrates the movement of water in the interior, which forms an annular pattern. The dots on the surface show the movement of surface water, which rotates in a counter-clockwise direction and moves faster toward the pole.

Tiffany Shaw, assistant professor of applied mathematics, has been awarded a Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering, a prestigious honor given to a group of the most promising and innovative researchers who are at the beginning stages of their careers. Shaw, who has a joint appointment in Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, is one of 16 fellows named who will each receive an unrestricted grant of $875,000, distributed over five years.

Shaw studies the fluid dynamics of Earth’s weather and climate, using a combination of theory, observations, and numerical models. Her research focuses on understanding how moisture is transported and how it interacts with large-scale flow patterns, such as the summer monsoon, and the impact of climate change.

“Receiving the Packard Fellowship is truly a great honor,” says Shaw. “I am very grateful to the Packard Foundation for their support. [This] will provide me with a unique opportunity to pursue big and bold ideas that I might not otherwise pursue.”

Shaw has always had a keen interest in the atmosphere, having grown up in a family of pilots and training to become a pilot herself. She recognized early on that atmospheric science combines the atmosphere, physics, and math—all subjects she was genuinely interested in and excelled in as a student.

Shaw is currently developing a theoretical basis for turbulent moisture transport. She hopes this can be used to understand the dynamics of the summer monsoon and their response to climate change.

“We are extremely pleased that Professor Shaw has been recognized as a talented young faculty member,” says Donald Goldfarb, Interim Dean of Columbia Engineering and Alexander and Hermine Avanessians Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. “In giving her this significant honor, the Packard Foundation’s Advisory Panel noted that her research has the ability to profoundly impact the lives of her students and all of us in the world at large. This is yet another confirmation of the superb quality of our faculty.”

The Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering is considered one of the most highly prized awards given to junior faculty conducting innovative research. The fellowship was established in 1988 to allow the nation’s most promising researchers to pursue science and engineering research early in their careers with few funding restrictions.

Each year, the Foundation invites the presidents of 50 universities to nominate two early-career professors each from their institutions whose research is in the natural and physical sciences or engineering. An advisory panel of distinguished scientists and engineers review nominations and select the new class of fellows.

Shaw is the third professor in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics to receive this honor, following Associate Professor Latha Venkataraman, who was selected a Packard Fellow in 2008, and Professor Adam Sobel, who received the fellowship in 2000. Six additional Columbians have received the fellowship, including three other SEAS faculty members: Ruben-Viele Professor Jingyue Ju of the Department of Chemical Engineering and T.C. Chang Professor Shree Nayar and Professor Kenneth Ross, both of the Computer Science Department.

The Packard Foundation, based in Los Altos, CA, was created by David Packard, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, and his wife, Lucille. This fellowship program arose out of David Packard’s commitment to strengthen university-based science and engineering programs in recognition that the success of Hewlett-Packard derived in large measure from the research and development in university laboratories.

– Melanie A. Farmer