Climate Modeling Pioneer Leads as Role Model Too

For 60 years atmospheric scientist Warren M. Washington has conducted groundbreaking climate modeling—and launched brilliant careers.

Warren Washington  National Medal of Science


It began with a challenge from a high school teacher: Figure out why egg yolks are yellow. That’s when Warren Washington, who was working as a dishwasher and janitor at a hospital in Portland, Ore., while attending school, began thinking about becoming a scientist.

By the late 1950s, Washington had finished his undergraduate degree in physics. When he was partway through a master’s at Oregon State College in Corvallis (now Oregon State University), he accepted an internship at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, Calif. The work he did that summer—atmospheric modeling—fascinated him and tested his skills in physics, chemistry, and atmospheric science.

Washington became captivated with the idea that Earth’s past, present, and future meteorological conditions could be calculated using computer models. By 1964, he had finished his Ph.D. in meteorology, making him only the second African American to obtain a doctorate in the atmospheric sciences.

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Climate Modeling Pioneer Leads as Role Model Too