Physics Student Takes Top Honors At AMS Conference

Physics Student Takes Top Honors At AMS Conference

SOCORRO, N.M. – Zachary Lawrence, a Ph.D. student in the Physics Department, recently was selected as the best student presentation winner at the American Meteorological Society's Conference on Middle Atmosphere.

 “I was really excited to find out I won,” Lawrence said. “It was kind of unexpected because I’m generally nervous about public speaking. But Tech has been great for me because there’s a lot of focus on technical communication in the Physics Department. That’s improved my public speaking skills, but it was still a pleasant surprise.”

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Zac Lawrence


Lawrence won for his talk titled “Characterizing Stratospheric Polar Vortex Variability with Computer Vision Techniques.” Lawrence received $150 and a certificate. The project is part of his doctoral research project he is doing with advisor Dr. Gloria Manney.

Lawrence is researching the polar vortex in the northern hemisphere, which acts as a containment vessel for trace gases that can lead to ozone depletion. The northern polar vortex can also lead to extreme cold spells, particularly in Europe. His talk focused on how he has been using computer vision techniques to characterize the polar vortex in 3-D meteorological data.

Using 40 years’ worth of data, Lawrence has uncovered some interesting vortex behavior, including more than 30 instances where the vortex split apart into two vortices – more than anyone had ever recorded.

No stranger to accolades, Lawrence won a research award in 2016 from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, which is funded by NASA. He also landed a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship in 2016 for his project titled “A New Perspective on Polar Vortex and Jet Interactions and their Impacts on Past, Present, and Future Upper Tropospheric/Lower Stratospheric Ozone.”  This highly competitive fellowship will fund his dissertation work for three years.

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