Professor is Teaching Science -- the Right Way

Lowell Sun
08/01/2014
By Hiroko Sato

Robert Gamache, a professor in the UMass Lowell Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has been named one of "The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds" by Thomson Reuters, which compiled the list by the title in collaboration with Shanghai Jiaotong University and producer of the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Gamache is listed as among the most "highly cited researchers." Gamache, who also serves as the dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Marine Sciences, has his bachelor's degree in chemistry from UMass Dartmouth and a master's degree in molecular physics and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from UMass Amherst, and has taught at the University of Massachusetts and at universities in France. Married with two children, Gamache lives in Dunstable.

Q: How do you feel to be named as one of the most influential scientific minds in the world?

A: Very excited. Of course, it was quite a surprise. ... This acknowledgment by Thomson Reuters is very exciting in that it's based upon citations. The people on this list (have research papers that) are being used by thousands of scientists. It kind of puts you in the elite class of researchers.

Q: What does your research entail?

A: We have many instruments that are making measurement in planetary atmosphere. In order to understand what they have measured, they need physical fundamental parameters that allow researchers to recreate what they measured. My specialty is the calculation of the shape of the spectral lines.

Q: How does your research help society?

A: For example, my line parameters (developed in the 1980s) were used by people studying the hole in the ozone layer. From the analysis, they were able to show chlorofluorocarbons were causing ozone depletion and that this could lead to real problems. Much of the work I'm doing right now is global climate change. From the science point of view, it's completely clear that the humans are affecting the planet. Unfortunately, we have industries that make it seem like controversial.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A: To look at equations and figure out what they are trying to tell you is exhilarating, and one of the intellectually challenging parts of my job. It's very stimulating and it feels great when you solve this kind of problem.

Q: What does "scientific minds" mean to you?

A: Scientific minds means different things to different people. The context of Thomson Reuters is researchers who are doing state-of-the-art work in the discipline. When we (scientists) give numbers or say something, people believe us because they realize we put a lot of work into it and checked it many times.

Q: How do you grow scientific minds as a teacher?

A: By showing them the correct way to do science -- not trying to do things fast as much as to get it done correctly. You always try to do the best job you possibly can, given the strains of theories or devices that you have.

Q: Were you always scientifically minded as a child?

A: I honestly cannot say I ever had a plan that looks out five or 10 years. It's not like I ever sat down and said, "I'm going to be a physicist and chemist." I am lucky and love what I do. It has always been my passion.

Q: Who is the scientist you most admire?

A: If I had to choose one person that influenced me the most, that would be my Ph.D. teacher, Paul Cade. He very quietly taught me how to do things right, and that's what I try to teach my students right now.

Q: What's been the most rewarding moment in your career?

A: I will be hard-pressed to pick one thing. Seeing my students succeed is rewarding. We have many, many very successful students. It's a joy to watch them grow.

Q: What do you recommend young people do if they are interested in pursuing education and a career in your line of work?

A: If they are interested in the study of the Earth and its atmosphere, I recommend they pursue a degree in those areas and work and study hard to be successful in a field that they find interesting.