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MTU studying clouds, weather

January 3, 2011
By Stacey Kukkonen Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - With the help of a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, scientists at Michigan Technological University will get a better look at clouds.

With the funding, scientists plan to develop a chamber in the new Great Lakes Research Center, projected to be complete in 2011.

"Scientists at Michigan Tech will be developing a chamber to study atmospheric processes relevant to weather and climate," said Raymond Shaw, lead investigator and professor of physics.

Article Photos

Michigan Tech University scientists have received a $1.4 million grant to study atmospheric processes relevant to weather and climate. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Stacey Kukkonen)

Little is known about how clouds work and the ultimate goal with the chamber is to study clouds' inner workings, he said.

"One of the things I hope we can study is exactly how ice crystals or snowflakes form in clouds," he said.

Although the idea seems simple, Shaw said the idea isn't completely understood by scientists. Shaw said they would like to study just how liquid turns to ice, as well.

"It seems particularly important for a place like Houghton," he said.

The chamber won't be ready until 2011. Shaw said the chamber is expected to be shaped like a cylinder, two meters in diameter.

"It's being designed and the expectation is that it will look like a can and will be about 1 meter high and about 6 or 7 feet in diameter," Shaw said.

Michigan Tech proved to be the perfect place for the chamber because of Tech's interdisciplinary nature, ranging from chemical and physical processes to computational modeling of clouds.

"It really is an honor," Shaw said. "Top universities from all around the country compete for limited dollars."

The Great Lakes Research Center was bound to be home to the chamber because of a bigger picture - future endeavors.

"The Great Lakes Research Center is focused on collaborative research," he said. "Projects that bring together a whole group of people with a focus on ecosystem, the lake, the atmosphere."

Shaw said the chamber is an exciting step for Michigan Tech as there is nothing like it in the world.

"It's a place where scientists, not only here at Michigan Tech but other places in the U.S., can bring their instruments and come study atmospheric processes," he said.

Clouds are important on two levels: understanding weather and being an important part of the climate puzzle and how much sunlight gets into the Earth and how warm the Earth is depends on clouds, he said.

Although some of the money is earmarked for the chamber construction, some money will be used for post-doctoral research studying turbulence and chemical processes, among others.

"There will be an engineer working with technical aspects of the chamber and then at least two students involved with various aspects of the project," he said.

Shaw said scientist at Tech are very excited to get the ball rolling with the project.

"This is where the fun starts," he said.



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