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Russell Schnell Wins NOAA Science Communicator Award
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/ Categories: Research Headlines, 2012

Russell Schnell Wins NOAA Science Communicator Award

A NOAA scientist who has published 134 scientific papers and holds patents in chemistry and microbiology can now add award-winning science communicator to his list of honors. Russell Schnell, an atmospheric scientist and deputy director of the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), is the recipient of NOAA’s 2011 Dr. Daniel L. Albritton Outstanding Science Communicator Award.

“We are proud to give this year’s Albritton Award to an atmospheric scientist whose creativity, enthusiasm, and ability to simplify complex environmental issues fosters understanding and inspires both scientists and future scientists around the globe,” said Craig McLean, acting assistant administrator of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

Schnell has lived, traveled, or worked in 87 countries and on every continent, and has been to both the North and South Poles. In 1991, he joined NOAA in Hawaii to become director of the Mauna Loa Observatory, the premier long-term atmospheric monitoring facility where increasing concentrations of global atmospheric carbon dioxide were discovered. Schnell moved stateside to Boulder, Colo., in 1998 to become director of observatory and global network operations. Since 2007, he’s been ESRL’s deputy director of the Global Monitoring Division, which provides data to keep scientists abreast of the current state of the atmosphere.

Schnell has spoken to thousands of people throughout his career. He has devised myriad ways to translate complex information including learning aids such as a large transparent inflatable globe that he uses to explain concepts such as how thin the atmosphere is and how winds blow air pollution around.

Schnell explained why it is important for scientists to talk about their science. "The physical world we live in is amazingly interlinked. It is both exciting and important to understand these linkages. It is like a big waterbed, one person's actions affects the whole system," he said.

Mary K. Miller, director for the partnership between NOAA and the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco said, “In my nearly two decades at the Exploratorium, I’ve met and worked with many dozens of prominent scientists but a scant few measure up to Russ’ infectious energy, deep knowledge and ability to translate complex ideas into great stories. We are deeply grateful for Russ’ communication skills and enthusiasm in showing us his world and look forward to collaborating with him in the months and years to comeas we develop experiences to share with the public about this vital area of NOAA research.”

Schnell has been called an “inspiration for future scientists” by his colleagues who routinely ask him to address visitors to NOAA’s Boulder campus. In addition, Schnell conducts media interviews, works with a variety of museums, and addresses international policy makers.

The Outstanding Science Communicator Award is named for Daniel Albritton, who was the director of NOAA’s Aeronomy Laboratory, which was consolidated with five other laboratories into what is now the Earth System Research Laboratory. Albritton, now retired, used illustrations and easily understood language to explain complex concepts to a variety of audiences, including U.S. Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, and the general public.

"It is an honor to receive the Dan Albritton award," Schnell said. "I will never achieve the eloquence of one of Dan's carefully crafted presentations; they were classics. Dan did teach me though to make presentations colorful, simple, focused and short. And, to never use bigger words than required."

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