Dr. Christopher Castro is an Associate Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Arizona. He received his B.S. degree in Meteorology, with the highest distinction, from Pennsylvania State University and went on to be awarded a M.S. and PhD in Atmospheric Science from Colorado State University. Christopher conducted postdoctoral research at Colorado State University before joining the faculty at the University of Arizona in 2006. Christopher is here with us today to talk a little about his research and tell us all about his journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:09)
Christopher is happily married, and has two wonderful 3-year-old twin daughters. A lot of Christopher’s time these days is spent drawing, making stuff out of clay, and playing outside with his kids.
The Scientific Side (3:06)
The research that Christopher does focuses on the summer climate in Arizona, and specifically on the North American monsoons. He studies the summer rainfall and monsoon thunderstorms, as well as the impacts that people may experience as a result of these weather phenomena, including severe storms and flash floods.
A Dose of Motivation (3:55)
“Nature bats last.”
What Got You Hooked on Science? (7:16)
When Christopher was about 15-16 years old, he went on a trip to the town of Ajo in Southwestern Arizona. It was a very warm and welcoming town, and he remembers enjoying carne asada and great company on one of the days there. During these festivities, he saw monsoon thunderstorm clouds forming in the distance. As the sun began to set, the sky was filled with a spectacular red-orange color that contrasted with the dark clouds. That evening, Christopher witnessed the heaviest rain and biggest flash flood event he had ever seen in his life, and all of this occurred in the middle of a desert. This incident got Christopher interested in monsoons, but as he entered college, he actually planned to become a lawyer. After an internship working in a civil rights office, Christopher realized he was more interested in the natural world, and changed his major to meteorology.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (15:31)
One of the biggest struggles of Christopher’s life occurred about 4 years ago. His wife was diagnosed with a serious illness related to her pregnancy. She was hospitalized for 3 months, and the couple ultimately lost their baby. This was a difficult time that ended in a heartbreaking tragedy, but Christopher was able to get through it by taking a scientific approach to thinking about it. He read through a lot of medical journals to understand what was going on from a scientific perspective, and this helped him communicate better with the doctors and work through everything logically. The team in Christopher’s lab helped him keep his research going, and the University really supported him during this time as well.
A Shining Success! (18:51)
Christopher obtained a Fulbright Fellowship that allowed him to do a sabbatical at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. This was very rewarding experience because he met so many bright young people while teaching a graduate level class there. They also did a site visit in El Salvador to assess the country’s needs in terms of climate change projection. It was exciting to realize that his area of modeling precipitation events was in high demand, and these prediction models had the potential to have a big impact on the people there.
Book Recommendations (22:30)
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
Most Treasured Travel (27:37)
One of Christopher’s favorite places to visit is Latin America. He has been to so many different destinations within the region, and it is so beautiful there. With the magnificent Andes Mountains, breathtaking volcanoes, and lush rainforests, there are a lot of environments that you can’t experience in the United States. Christopher speaks Spanish fluently and has hispanic roots, so he is comfortable traveling there, feels very welcome, and enjoys connecting with the culture. Scientifically, he is passionate about the problems of climate change and the tools necessary to understand and address these problems in Latin America.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (33:57)
Working in Christopher’s field is technically complicated. They use programs with thousands of lines of code, and a lot of pieces need to come together for the overall model to work. Technical difficulties occur frequently, and despite months of careful preparation, simulations may crash and models won’t work. Chris jokes with his lab members when this happens that they are free to go after the problems with a hammer. Though, no one has taken him up yet on attacking one of their computers with a hammer, it is a good way to get a laugh and help people take a step back from the stress of the moment.
Advice For Us All (38:04)
Be positive, patient, and persistent. If you have these three traits, you can be successful in science.
Christopher joined Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona as a faculty member in August 2006. His doctoral and postdoctoral work at the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University applied a regional atmospheric model to the investigation of North American summer climate. Current research within his group at the University of Arizona focuses principally on physical understanding and prediction of climate in North America through regional atmospheric modeling and analysis of observations. Specific topics being investigated in the scope of Christopher’s projects include improving seasonal climate forecasts, convective-resolving simulations of severe weather, water resource projection at the regional and local scale, and contributions to parameterization development in the Weather Research and Forecasting model. Their projects engage the operational weather forecast community and water resource providers in the Southwest. Through his collaborations and outreach activities, Christopher is also working to develop improved capacity for weather climate research in other parts of the world, especially Latin America.