||By Brandi Bernoskie,
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
While most other children were watching cartoons, Brian Kahn was watching the weather. When he was in elementary school, his parents helped him install an anemometer, an instrument that measures wind speed, on the side of their home. After a few years of recording temperature, humidity and wind speed on his own, Brian discovered The Weather Channel. He frequently tuned in to see the meteorologists – the people who monitored and reported on the weather – when he was not in school. "My friends thought I was a little weird," Kahn remembers, "but were supportive and would always ask me questions about the weather."
People are still asking Kahn questions about weather. He continues to study weather and Earth's atmosphere as a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. After receiving his undergraduate degree in meteorology, Kahn went on to get a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of California, Los Angeles. Like many who pursue a career as a scientist, Kahn enjoyed his math and science classes in school, but he also was interested in social sciences. "For a science career, not only do you need to be good at traditional math and physics topics, you also need to communicate well in speaking and writing," Kahn notes.
An expert in his field, Kahn spends an important part of his day writing scientific papers and corresponding with people about his work. He is currently working with an instrument called the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, or AIRS. AIRS is an instrument on the Aqua satellite, which was launched by NASA in 2002 and orbits the Earth 16 to 17 times each day.
Kahn is using data from AIRS to improve weather forecasting and models used to predict the rate of climate change. With AIRS, he can study the Earth's clouds, weather, and climate. AIRS records data about infrared radiation on Earth. This infrared radiation data allows scientists like Kahn to create three-dimensional maps of air and surface temperature, water vapor, and cloud properties. These maps help scientists investigate clouds, temperature, water vapor, and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Kahn hopes his work will help scientists better simulate the atmosphere in computer-based modeling.
Creativity is also an important part of Kahn's work. Understanding the picture new data generates and putting it into context require skill and intuition, and Kahn particularly loves the creative aspect of science. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that daydreaming is a waste of time," Kahn contends. He often comes up with good ideas and insights into his work while daydreaming, and uses this creativity when exploring the data from AIRS for interesting scientific results. Kahn also collaborates with other scientists, traveling around the US and world to attend meetings with them where they discuss their research and work together on new projects.
Kahn has been lucky enough to turn his childhood passion into a successful career, though it has not always been easy for him. "You don't have to get straight A's to be successful – I'm proof of that," Kahn points out. Enthusiasm, persistence, and creativity, he says, are the true keys to success.