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Lightning Researcher Featured in ‘Dream Jobs 2010’

SOCORRO, N.M. February 10, 2010 – Ron Thomas officially has a “dream job.”

A New Mexico Tech electrical engineering professor, Dr. Ron Thomas is among the elite engineers and scientists featured in the current edition of IEEE’s Spectrum magazine.

The February edition of the leading E.E. journal devotes 25 pages to its annual “Dream Job” report. The 2010 version includes people with careers in software, robotics, entertainment, transportation, manufacturing, medicine and design. Thomas’ profile includes the headline, “Engineer Vs. The Volcano.” The sub-headline says, “Ronald Thomas tracks the weird and vivid bursts of lightning that accompany erupting volcanoes.”

Force of Nature: Ronald Thomas turned a lifelong fascination with lightning into a career. Photo: Jen Judge/IEEE Spectrum magazine

Reporter Prachi Patel had previously interviewed Thomas and other lightning researchers for a 2009 article about a research expedition to Mount Redoubt in southcentral Alaska – the first time volcanic lightning researchers gathered data from an initial eruption.

“She wondered if she could come out and interview me for this ‘Dream Job’ thing,” Thomas said. “I thought, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea’.”

The Spectrum article chronicles Thomas’ education and his interest in lightning. Patel also wrote about the recent trip to Mount Redoubt and the challenges of conducting research in Alaska in the winter.

Patel visited Socorro during the summer of 2009 to interview Thomas. A photographer from Santa Fe came in December to get the perfect portrait of Thomas – at El Malpais National Monument south of Grants.

“I was pretty pleased to see it,” said Thomas, who officially retired as a professor in July 2009. “They did a very good job. It’s a fun story that is pretty accurate.”

While Thomas is retired, he’s not left research behind. He is still working as a staff researcher studying the phenomenon of volcanic lightning.

Does Thomas really have his dream job?

“I really think I do. A lot of us around Tech do,” he said. “To get picked to be in that group in IEEE Spectrum is pretty nice.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech