George Veronis Is Honored for His 50-Year Educational Commitment

Nearly 50 years ago, Yale scientist George Veronis helped found a program at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) through which researchers from around the world could discuss and debate how water and other fluids move in the ocean, on planets and stars, and in the atmosphere.

For that effort and his continued involvement in the initiative — called the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program (GFD) — Veronis was selected to receive the American Geophysical Union’s Excellence in Geophysical Education Award.

The award is given annually to acknowledge “outstanding educators who have made a long-lasting, positive impact on geophysical education.” Veronis accepted the award earlier this year at the American Geophysical Union’s Meeting of the Americas 2008 Joint Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Veronis started the GFD Program in 1959 with Willem Malkus, now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while the two scientists were at WHOI. Their goal was to introduce graduate students to basic principles in geophysical fluid dynamics, then a new field. Over the years, more than 450 student fellows and over 1,000 visitors have participated in the ­program.

“The aim of the program is to induce fellows to learn by doing research rather than by taking courses,” Veronis says. “That transition is the most difficult one for graduate students to make.”

Jack Whitehead, a scientist emeritus in the WHOI Department of Physical Oceanography, says, “The GFD Program has maintained a persistent, positive example of dynamic education by example and apprenticeship throughout its entire lifetime. I wish every student could have such an experience.”

Every summer, the GFD Program begins with two weeks of principle lectures focused on a specific theme. The yearly themes have included tides, dynamics of the outer planets and the general circulation of the atmosphere. About 8 to 10 graduate student fellows are selected each year. The fellows prepare a summary of these lectures, then design and complete an individual research project under the supervision of the staff. At the end of August, students present a lecture on the results of their research.

The program is housed in Walsh Cottage on the Woods Hole village campus, an intimate setting designed to further discussion among the fellows.

Veronis has participated in the GFD Program nearly every summer since it began. “What is remarkable about the program is that members of the original steering committee continued to take part in the program every summer, mostly without compensation, for the entire 50 years or until they became incapacitated for reasons of health,” the Yale scientist says.

Veronis and Malkus were selected for the Excellence in Geophysical Education Award by their peers in the American Geophysical Union, a worldwide scientific community that advances the understanding of Earth and space for humanity’s benefit.

The Yale scientist focuses his research on geophysical thermal dynamics, thermal convection, double diffusive processes and large-scale ocean circulation. He is the editor of the Journal of Marine Research. His previous honors include the American Meteorological Society’s Henry Stommel Research Award.

“I believe that I can speak for the others as well when I say that it isn’t our arrival at the half-century point that I find so satisfying about the GFD program,” Veronis says. “It’s what each of us has experienced every summer.”

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