Colorado State University Bestows Highest Faculty Honor on Atmospheric Science Professor Graeme Stephens

Colorado State University today bestowed its highest academic distinction on a researcher who has made ground-breaking contributions in many aspects of atmospheric science, including leading an innovative NASA mission to launch a satellite this summer that will provide new information about clouds and climate change.

Atmospheric Science Professor Graeme Stephens was named a University Distinguished Professor at a special ceremony during the annual Celebrate Colorado State! luncheon. President Larry Edward Penley conferred the honor, a distinction reserved for only 12 faculty members who have achieved national and international prominence in their academic careers.

"I want to congratulate Professor Stephens on this prestigious appointment – a tribute to his significant achievements and reputation in his field. As Colorado State’s newest University Distinguished Professor, he joins a team of internationally renowned faculty who are committed to leading the university with excellence, dedication and far-reaching scholarship," said Colorado State University President Larry Edward Penley. "The University Distinguished Professors are truly among the world leaders in their areas of expertise, and their work sets a high standard of excellence and accomplishment for our students and faculty."

"The exceptional contributions of Dr. Stevens reflect the ideals of teaching and research typified by faculty members at Colorado State," said Anthony Frank, interim provost and senior vice president. "The valued work of our University Distinguished Professors and all our faculty members presents new possibilities and innovations in meeting the extraordinary challenges facing our global community – and in providing the best possible education to students."

For the past 12 years, Stephens has been the principal investigator of NASA’s CloudSat mission, a $160 million satellite project that will launch into orbit the world’s most advanced research radar designed to measure properties of clouds that are essential for accurate understanding of Earth’s weather and climate processes. CloudSat involves scientists from around the world and will improve weather and climate prediction and develop critical new space technologies. One of the largest university-led projects in NASA’s history, the satellite will launch this summer.

"It will allow us to uncover new discoveries about the Earth’s atmosphere," Stephens said.

Stephens joined the faculty of Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State as an associate professor in 1984 and was promoted to full professor in 1991. He previously served as senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Division of Atmospheric Research, in Victoria, Australia. Stephens earned his bachelor’s with honors from the University of Melbourne in 1973 and received his doctoral in 1977 from the same university.

Stephens is well known in the atmospheric science field for his work understanding the role of clouds in climate and the flow of radiation in the atmosphere. His current research focuses on atmospheric radiation and on the application of remote sensing in climate research, with particular emphasis on understanding the role of hydrological processes in climate change. He has examined cloud properties from the ground, the air and from space, and used this information to better understand the physical processes that define Earth’s atmosphere.

Other recent research activities include the development of advanced inversion methods for extracting information from measurements as well as in developing novel techniques to examine the role of clouds in the Earth’s climate processes.

"It’s gratifying to be able to contribute to different areas of atmospheric science," Stephens said.

Although Stephens has received many accolades for his research, he said he spends more time thinking about graduate students’ work than his own. Stephens works with 11 graduate students and said teaching is one of the most gratifying parts of his job.

"I enjoy the to-and-fro interaction with graduate students," Stephens said. "We challenge each other."

A maximum of 12 current faculty members at the university may hold the rank of University Distinguished Professor, which is a permanent designation. To obtain the rank, faculty members are nominated through an extensive review process and must be approved by the current University Distinguished Professors. President Larry Penley approved the selections and secured endorsement from the university’s governing board.

Each University Distinguished Professor receives a special medallion and a permanent base salary increase of $7,500. Current members of the group are Patrick Brennan, microbiology; Edward Hoover, pathology; Holmes Rolston III, philosophy; George Seidel, physiology; Gary Smith, animal sciences; Thomas Vonder Haar, atmospheric science; Bernard E. Rollin, philosophy; Robert Williams, chemistry; Barry Beaty, microbiology; Stephen Withrow, veterinary medicine; and Louis S. Hegedus, chemistry.