The associate director for research of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Dr. Kaye runs NASA’s environmental research program.

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

NASA’s Associate Director for Research, Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate

At Adelphi: “I was president of the chemistry club; big surprise for a chemistry major! I was very much involved with the Delphian. My first year I wrote news, the second year I was sports editor, my junior year I started as associate editor, became managing editor, and I did that for almost two years. For being a commuter, I spent a heck of a lot of time on campus.”Value of his Adelphi education: “Adelphi helped set me on my career path. It gave me the fundamental underpinnings and the opportunity to grow as an individual that let me move forward.”

Advice for current students: “My first semester at Adelphi I took a public speaking class. I can’t overestimate how important being comfortable speaking in front of groups is. Become comfortable talking, writing, communicating.”

Enabler of Science

“Even though Earth is the planet we live on, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about it,” said Dr. Jack Kaye.

The associate director for research of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Dr. Kaye runs NASA’s environmental research program. “This is based significantly on the analysis of data earth observing satellites provide us. These satellites give NASA the opportunity to take a really good hard rigorous look at what the Earth is doing,” he said. “The satellites are uniquely capable of giving us a global reach because they literally can cover the earth.”

Dr. Kaye explains that his program’s goal is to characterize and understand the Earth and improve our ability to predict its future evolution. “Especially when you get to the open oceans, polar ice sheets, sea ice…you want to see exactly what’s there, how it changes with time, understand the processes that act on them, and the way they interact with each other,” he said. “We are working to observe and document the changes. Ideally, we want to understand what are natural changes, what may be human induced changes, and then try to establish what we can say about the future.”

The atmosphere is something that has always been of interest to Dr Kaye: “My first year at Adelphi I took a ‘Weather and Man’ course.” Among his fondest memories of his years at Adelphi are the professors who instilled confidence in him. “A lot of times in science education you get the sense that people try to make it hard, try to frighten people. At Adelphi, the professors wanted you to succeed, and they helped you believe that you could.”

“Adelphi was a great time in my life when I learned, was challenged, and grew,” he said. Toward the end of his educational career at the University, he began applying to graduate schools, and was accepted to all six institutions he applied to. “That was thanks in part to the education I received at Adelphi,” he said. Upon graduating in 1976, he went across the country to the California Institute of Technology to pursue his doctoral degree in theoretical physical chemistry.

In his Ph.D. thesis, he acknowledged the profound influence his Adelphi professors had on him: “My decision to pursue graduate work in chemistry was derived mainly from a sense of how enjoyable science can be which I got from the chemistry, physics, and mathematics departments at Adelphi University, especially from Professors Stanley Windwer, Frederick Bettelheim, Sung Moon, Anthony Lemos, Edward Burke, and Herbert Kurss, and also Rich Silvestri, my freshman calculus TA. Dr. Windwer gave me more good advice than he can ever imagine.”

By the time he finished his Ph.D. in January of 1982, Dr. Kaye knew he wanted to “do something that was a little more directly societally relevant as opposed to doing something more fundamental.” Working at the United States Naval Research Lab, he was able to apply his background in chemistry, physics and math to the study of atmospheres. He did atmospheric modeling for two years before being offered a position at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), a major NASA space research laboratory.

Six years into working at the GSFC, he received a request to manage a program at NASA’s headquarters. “I transitioned from being a doer of science to being an enabler of science,” said Dr. Kaye. “Managing a program I wasn’t going to typically be doing new things, publishing literature, adding to the knowledge. But I was managing a program that would fund investigators from all around the country to study the earth’s troposphere and stratosphere.”

In addition to serving as manager of NASA Headquarters’ Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling and Analysis Program, he also served as the program scientist for several NASA satellite missions and instruments and the ATLAS series of space shuttle missions. In 1999, he was named associate director for research in what was then NASA’s Earth Science Division, and he has been carrying out the same functions since then.

While he has been working at NASA for nearly three decades now, Dr. Kaye says his work never gets old. Since he joined NASA in 1983, he has assumed a number of different roles: researcher, manager, and executive. Throughout the years he has also represented NASA on numerous interagency and international organizations such as the US Global Change Research Program, for which he has been NASA principal for many years (and acting program director for approximately 18 months from 2009 through 2010), and the Global Climate Observing System, for which he served some six years on its Steering Committee. “I’m always growing, always learning,” he says.

Besides working to advance scientific knowledge about the Earth, Dr. Kaye makes it a priority to reach out to today’s students—the scientists and voters of the future, as well as citizens of all ages. He has spoken to groups ranging from preschool students to senior citizens. One of his most memorable talks was when he returned to Adelphi to present the keynote address for the New York Section of the American Chemical Society’s annual Undergraduate Research Symposium when it was hosted at the University in 2010.

In recognition of his efforts and accomplishments, Dr. Kaye has been elected as a Fellow by the American Meteorological Society and selected twice by the federal government as a Meritorious Senior Executive.

“It’s a great privilege to be involved in something in which we can apply the tools of science and technology to advance our knowledge in an area that’s of great national and global interest, and really try to provide the science that will let people—individuals, businesses, or governments—make more intelligent decisions about the future,” he said.

Published November 2012

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