Podcasts

You Have a Cool Job: Atmospheric Scientist


On this week’s episode

  • Luxi Zhou, an atmospheric scientist, describes her role working on air quality modeling at the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  • We talk about the broad scope of atmospheric science and what types of roles you may have as a scientist in the field.
  • Zhou tells us what she did to get where she is, including her education, professional background, and unique data collection experiences.
  • Zhou gives advice to students and aspiring scientists, and explains what she enjoys about her job.

About the show

You Have a Cool Job is a podcast hosted by Taylor Sienkiewicz from Peterson’s. The show highlights professionals who have a unique, interesting, uncommon, or otherwise cool job.

Our goal is to motivate you and show how interesting, fulfilling, and anything-but-average your career can be, and we’ll do this by talking with people who took a path less traveled. We ask these fascinating individuals how they got to where they are in their career based on their education, experience, and influences;  why they love their job; and lots more.

Want more?

This is our very first episode, and if you like what you’re hearing already, check out these resources to get plugged in.

Subscribe to You Have a Cool Job on Apple Podcasts here or on Soundcloud here

Subscribe to receive an email containing each podcast episode of You Have a Cool Job as they’re released.  

See more on this episode’s guest and expert Luxi Zhou.

Have a nomination for the show? Drop a line here.

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Transcript of Episode 1

HOST SHOW INTRO: Hello and welcome. From Peterson’s, I’m Taylor Sienkiewicz and you’re listening to “You Have a Cool Job”, a podcast highlighting those who took their profession in a unique direction, and what they did to get there.

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HOST SHOW INTRO: This is our very first episode of “You Have a Cool Job” so let me tell you a bit more about what we’re doing here. We’re here to motivate you and show how interesting, fulfilling, and anything but average your career can be by talking with people who took a path less traveled. We’ll ask these fascinating professionals how they got to where they are based on their education, experience, and anything or anyone else that contributed to their careers. Tune in every week on your way to school, work, or anywhere else life takes you for all careers weird and wacky. We hope you enjoy.

HOST EPISODE INTRO: Our first ever interviewee for “You Have a Cool Job” is Luxi Zhou, an atmospheric scientist who works on air quality monitoring for the US Environmental Protection Agency. So if you have an interest in science or the environment, definitely stay tuned. To start things off, we asked her what her role as an atmospheric scientist is all about.

LUXI ZHOU: On one side it’s about research and on the other hand it’s about application, solve the problem in a practical world. So, there are many gas molecules and particles in the atmosphere so in addition to the oxygens and nitrogens there are other trace gases and particles such as, either CO2 or ozone or the small particles and these trace constituents, they are either in your house or they impact the weather. So, my job is to do the atmospheric research by using or developing the numeric atmospheric models and these models resolve the concentrations of those trace species in the atmosphere.

HOST: When people think of atmospheric science, they think of meteorologists on the weather channel. However, Luxi explained that the world of atmospheric science is very broad in itself, but then becomes specialized. Luxi herself specializes in atmospheric modeling, so her job focuses on research and building models, utilizing coding and computer science much more than you would think.  

LUXI ZHOU: For developing the models we do research by reading literature or coding, coding is the major part of the job. We do code and then we round the models to compare the model results against the measurements.

HOST: These measurements that pertain to numeric models are built to resolve atmospheric processes like emissions, transport, chemistry and deposition. Scientists like Luxi use the models in both climate and air quality research. But Luxi didn’t start out building models. At first, she was the one that went out into the field and gathered all the raw data required. This data collection took her to the layers of the atmosphere itself.  

LUXI ZHOU: I started by doing the measurements in the atmospheric research. So we went out for the space campaign to do measurements by setting up the measurements and…the instruments. I have also done the flight measurements by going on board…some small planes so they can sample the measurements of those trace gases like CO or like ozone, do the measurements on board, so we fly up and down to collect samples. That’s quite fun. After the measurements I started doing models and from there I started to get more interested in doing simulations.  

HOST: From there Luxi began to develop the numeric models she works on today. Luxi built her career in research and atmospheric models, and while she spends her fair share of time coding and in the lab, the more unique aspects of her job come from her field work. Her team’s field work projects take them to every corner of the world as certain places pertain to this type of research.

LUXI ZHOU: It’s very fun. We go different places, we go into the forest, and my colleagues have been to the swamps, Siberia, or even Antarctica.

HOST: While Luxi didn’t know what she would eventually specialize in early on in her career, she knew she had a passion for physics, which is what she studied for her undergraduate degree at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

LUXI ZHOU: There I studied physics for three years and then I started to specialize to atmospheric physics.

HOST: Luxi eventually came to find atmospheric modeling of a particular interest to her during her studies, and continued her education at Helsinki through her masters and doctoral degrees. Due to her ability to find her own path, she recommends that students try out different domains as well.

LUXI ZHOU: What I would say is find one major that they are really interested in like me, like I tried different majors or minors in physics.

HOST: How Luxi decided on her particular field comes from her personal passions.

LUXI ZHOU: I decided to atmospheric physics because it’s very close to nature. It’s very related to our daily life and we are breathing in numerous molecules and particles with every breath, so it’s not something that is very narrow. It’s a very broad spectrum of subjects to study. So, it’s really a fun subject to study.

HOST: Luxi mentioned that one reason she got into the field was because of the nature aspect. So, others who are interested in science and the outdoors may also be suited to the job.

LUXI ZHOU: There’s plenty of chances or activities to be conducting outdoors.

HOST: In addition to this, there is the lab work experimental aspect of science that attracts still others with varying interests to the field.

LUXI ZHOU: If you are a very handy person that likes to do experiments then there’s also wide area to do the laboratory experiments.

HOST: And as for final advice, Luxi ends with the trait she finds most important throughout a career in atmospheric science.

LUXI ZHOU: Keep the curiosity, no matter what.

HOST OUTRO: Luxi is excited by her job and enjoys what she does, which is just what we want for all of you. Our goal for this podcast is to inspire you to pursue something that you’re passionate about, whether that’s a career in atmospheric scientist or in ballet. On that note, tune in next week for another episode of You Have a Cool Job. We’ll see you then.

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