Christopher Emersic Official Website
Home A personal account of my experiences during my career Read about my research (Coming soon!) Want to learn some background science?  Here it is in simple terms (Coming soon!) See all the presentations I've given on visits or at conferences (Coming soon!) Read about my involvement with the media and how to contact me (Coming soon!) Read my blog thoughts about random lightning things that I come across A friendly chat forum for the atmospheric electricity community and general public where we can talk all things thunderstorm and beyond (Coming soon!) Some links to other webpages of interest
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology / The University of Oklahoma One of the happiest times of my life leading the research I love
I was incredibly fortunate to have the proposal I wrote funded by the NSF.  I think it helped that the project was intended to be short and that we deliberately aimed for it to be cheap.  It was certainly hard work writing it, particularly as this was the first proposal I’d ever written and therefore lacked any experience or good understanding of the whole process—which was quite intimidating.  I was also not exactly a complete master of the subject I was proposing to study—which always makes things more difficult to write about.  Fortunately, I was working with great scientists when writing it who supported me. For the next 6 months, I was fortunate enough to be able to make further use of the skills I’d learned in my previous post in Oklahoma.  The project was to examine the electrical evolution of a hailstorm that occurred in Oklahoma in 2006 by examining its lightning activity.  It was also the first lightning study to make use of data from a candidate next generation of radar technology: Phased Array Radar.  This is ultra-fast radar which provides a data scan every few seconds instead of minutes and so gives good time resolution and more frames of animation, allowing us to see all the little details in storms that might occur too quickly for normal radar to see. Most of the initial time on this project I spent preparing for the analysis—getting software licenses, working with other scientists and friends to get the latest stable versions of their analysis programs up and running, ironing out all the problems etc.  Eventually, I was able to start properly looking at the hailstorm in detail.  As I mentioned in the description of my earlier career, I’d decided to work remotely and remain in New Mexico and stay with the scientists I’d been working with who were able to help advise.  I’d set up an office in my apartment and was very content working from home.  It’s actually amazing how much work you can get done from the comfort of your own home.  The only downside is that you run the risk of never getting out and can spend entire days inside.  This naturally led to the need for a much richer social life outside working time, and it was this that ultimately led to the happiest time of my life.  I would break up the days by having lunch with my colleagues at Tech.  I’d nip in and we’d go to the campus cafeteria for an hour.  It became a staple moment in the day.  We’d always have so much to talk about—stuff that was going on in the news, gossip, new ideas, jokes and belly-laughter.  Sometimes, we’d have a fresh face on the table which would spark new conversation.  Despite being senior scientists, everyone there was so friendly and ordinary; there was never any hierarchy or intimidation, posturing or aloofness.  Colleagues really became like friends and I genuinely felt like I was part of a loving working family that cared about me as a person.  I really looked forward to lunch each day and working with them in general. I also had a good social life with the local people and students there.  There was always something going on and people to talk to.  Again, probably down to being in an isolated desert town with a population of less than 10,000 people; unlike a bustling modern metropolitan city, there was not much to do, and so all people had was each other.  I really felt integrated into the community and was totally and utterly content.  And this had positive feedback on the work I was doing.  I learned in the best possible way—from experience—that if you want your work staff to be productive, then keep them happy!  I only wish it hadn’t been a short 6 month project; I would have been happy to stay there forever. Spending more time in Socorro for this project allowed me to get familiar with its idiosyncrasies.  Having lived in the Manchester, UK area all my life, I immediately noticed how inverted the climate and weather there was.  For every day there was a bit of sun in Manchester, Socorro had a day of cloud.  In other words, the sky there was wall-to-wall blue all the time.  In fact, it was oppressively sunny and bright!  It was something that took a while for me to get used to.  I wouldn’t have made a good vampire there.  It was also amazingly dry; no wonder it was so dusty—it never rained.  In fact it didn’t rain for 5 months between November and March!  The annual rainfall in that area is a few inches, and usually in one go, such as a thunderstorm.  It was actually a point of conversation if there was even a cloud in the sky—something to see!  And if it rained, it was practically breaking news!  There was never any point in washing my car, because it rarely got dirty in the sun, and an hour later, it would just be covered in dust again.  The air was also incredibly dry with dew points of a couple of degrees.  It would amaze me how at the gas (petrol) station, I’d clean the windshield with the sponge, and before I’d finished, it was practically dry before I’d even used the squeegee!  Water would literally evaporate before your eyes as though it was an alcohol or something!  Graydon would always tell us the story of how he’d spill a drop of water on the floor and think to himself “I better clean that up or I’ll slip”, and by the time he’d got back to it, it was gone!  One of the most impressive demonstrations of dry air occurred when I was in the local cinema once.  There was an evening event on after dark, and the place was packed with people.  The air conditioning was not on and so it started to moisten up and get humid as well as hot with everyone in there.  At the end of the film, it was sticky and uncomfortable, and someone decided to open the door to outside.  It was just as warm outside that evening, but incredibly dry.  Without feeling any temperature change, it was completely amazing to feel yourself literally dry up in the space of a few seconds!  I've never experienced that before and it felt very strange.  I certainly learned to appreciate water in all its forms more there.  As Graydon often said: “If you want to learn about water, go live in a desert!”.  In a tongue-in-cheek way, Socorro’s climate ruined that of the rest of the world for me.  Being in such a dry climate was very comfortable and made everywhere else seem less pleasant in comparison.  There was a downside to the dry air though (naturally)—namely the incredible static charges you could build up.  One thing I don’t miss is the massive electric shocks I got from touching things.  Every time I touched my car, I’d almost get my finger blown off by a giant spark.  It became a natural reflex to brace myself before shutting the door.  In fact, I could sit up off the couch in my lounge and charge myself to thousands of volts every time and get cm-long sparks from my finger just by touching the TV! While there, I had the opportunity to attend another international conference.  This time it was the AMS conference in phoenix.  This was only an 8 or so hour drive from Socorro and so I did drive there, even though I dislike long drives.  (Anything more than an hour is a long drive for me; but everyone has different times for that measure I learned!)  Driving through Arizona, though, and seeing the amazing Saguaro cacti was a great experience.  I remember that many people were wearing shorts and t-shirts in January in Phoenix because it was so warm! I also got to visit the Langmuir lab on top of the Magdalena Mountains where Tech researches thunderstorms.  Socorro is 1.4 km above sea level, but at the top of the mountains, you’re standing at 3km above sea level, and you definitely feel the pressure change on the way up.  You really feel like your lungs and chest are expanding!  And it’s much colder up there.  It was fairly cool, even on that hot summer’s day.  I got to see all the labs—including the Kiva bunkers used to shelter in during rocket triggered lightning experiments.  It was really quite humbling being there and imagining all the history and lightning research that had gone on there by the big names in our field.  The views were breath-taking and of course I had to take some panoramic photos. Overall, I adored my time in Socorro, working on my own project associated with lightning.  I really was living the dream.  Of course, toward the end of my time there, the global economy collapsed and opportunities pretty much evaporated along with the water, so I had to leave the US in the end.  It was fairly painful, but all good things come to an end I suppose.  I’d certainly be back there in a flash if I ever got the chance.  The time I spent in the US brought out the best in me.  I worked with great scientists who were also great people.  I learned from them that the sign of a good leader is someone who can bring out the best in you and keep you happy, yet not be seen as formal leaders or authority figures.  It’s a skill, and one I hope to emulate in my future.  The US culture, at least in the places I worked, seemed to be that regardless of academic rank, everyone is an equal, and it worked so well and had genuine positive feedback.  Professors went out with students and had meals at the local eateries, and chatted about non-work related, ordinary daily things and so forth, and it brought out a sense of equality, community and bonding in people.  The UK culture seems to be very different to this from my experience so far. Once I realised I was going to leave the US, I started looking round for positions in the UK.  Fortunately, my PhD supervisor, Clive, informed me that the cloud physics group at Manchester University were looking for a postdoc to run the new cloud chamber.  Being qualified for this, I applied, and was offered the position.  So it was back to the UK.  I had accumulated a few possessions while in the US for a couple of years.  A couple of them I wanted to bring back to the UK, the rest I either sold or gave away.  My friends had a field day just before I left.  I said, come over, and take what you want!  The rest of my stuff I shipped back to the UK, and I sold my car to a local resident.  I didn’t dwell on the difficulty of leaving.  I had some good leaving meals with all my friends and colleagues and finally flew out of Albuquerque airport back to Manchester.
Postdoc 3 summary While I remained at New Mexico Tech, I was technically employed by The University of Oklahoma on funding secured from a successful NSF proposal I wrote.  The short project involved looking at the lightning in a hail-producing thunderstorm that was scanned using ultra-fast radar which revealed all kinds of interesting things.  It was a great experience managing my own research, and much of my success was due to the help and support from all my colleagues and friends at both universities.
Peaceful Socorro Pretty much blue sky all the time! M Mountain.  One of the few days there was cloud in the sky while I was there! The local and Magdalena mountains obscured by clouds—a rare sight! Lovely morning view of M Mountain
Kivas © Dr Christopher Emersic Roof Top © Dr Christopher Emersic West Knoll © Dr Christopher Emersic
My Third Postdoc Experience My Third Postdoc Experience