Raymond Shaw Wins Research Award
Raymond Shaw says research is like working on a puzzle. “An incredibly diverse set of intertwined and nested puzzles.” Shaw, the winner of Michigan Technological University’s 2016 Research Award says every now and then a burst of insight comes along allowing the puzzle to be solved.
“It might seem strange to express it this way, but when that inspiration comes I feel a great sense of humility and gratitude.”
But unlike puzzles with a set number of pieces neatly packed in a box, the puzzles Shaw works on are a bit harder to put together. His puzzle pieces are clouds.
“We want to understand clouds, for example, what makes one cloud rain and another not” Shaw says. “Sometimes that means going into the cloud itself.”
And just as there are many ways to go about solving a puzzle, there are several ways to go inside clouds, including using holography and an airplane lab as Shaw did in cumulus clouds in Wyoming and Colorado.
Shaw has gotten into clouds “from the top” in Germany, by dropping a pendulum-type device from a helicopter. While Shaw uses air travel to go to clouds, sometimes the clouds return the favor.
“We’ve gone to the mountains where you let the cloud come to you,” he said. Shaw says when studying clouds on a mountain top, the most valuable tool is patience.
“It can be very frustrating seeing a cloud hover fifty feet above you, but when it descends and you’re inside the cloud it is definitely worth the wait.”
Shaw’s dedication to cloud research is so strong that when he can’t get to the clouds and can’t get the clouds to come to him, he has a third option. Michigan Tech has a cloud chamber, where Shaw and his team can study made-to-order clouds. Unlike other chambers that exist in laboratories around the world, the one at Michigan Tech creates clouds that are turbulent and that can persist for hours or even days, rather than the more typical time of a half hour or less.
“In nature you take what the cloud gives you, with the cloud chamber you create the cloud you need,” Shaw says.
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