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03/11/2021 | 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm MST
The western states have all been affected by intense wildfires in recent years, whether by the smoke emitted from fire hundreds of miles away, the immediate threat of wildfires to our communities or valued natural resources, or the evacuation of friends and family from threatened areas. A century of fire suppression has left our forests choked with fuel that dries to tinder in years of drought. Now when fire occurs, it is catastrophic. This virtual café explores the application of computer modeling as a new tool to help fire fighters predict the spread of wildfires and thus help them bring these devastating fires under control.
Featuring Dr. Rod Linn
About Dr. Linn
I grew up in Albuquerque, where my father was a member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratory. My mother returned to the school when I was 10 for her masters in special education, and subsequently had a long career in Albuquerque Public Schools. My brother and I grew up in a household where education was held as a high esteem, but other activities like soccer, track, swimming, hiking, rock climbing were also encouraged. I was raised with the attitude that even if you have disadvantages you should always push yourself to be the best you can be in whatever activities you choose to pursue.
In high school, I had a moderately rigorous course load that was slanted toward my strengths in math and science. But I made sure I had my fair share of challenges in other subjects. I always felt torn between taking classes like wood working, metals, and drafting—which I thoroughly enjoyed—and taking the classes that my parents encouraged me to take as college prep.
I took those tests designed to help students figure out which career paths they are best suited for. Interestingly, those tests usually suggested that I should be a forest ranger, forester, or something like that. This was in strong contrast with my father’s belief that I was best suited to be an engineer, based on my strengths in math… and other intangible fathers-intuition-type arguments. I took these with at grain of salt, since he was and engineer and therefore might have a little bias there. I was under the impression that my dad actually enjoyed his job as an engineer and I seldom heard him complain about work… until he took on various management activities and had to get involved lots of non-technical wrangling with funding agents, internal politics, and performance appraisals for his employees.
In the end, I chose to go into engineering. Engineering had been placed in front of me as a challenge, and I had a hard time backing away from a challenge. Maybe this was not the best reason to choose a career, but I also did consider the fact that engineering seemed to have a wider variety of career paths after school.
Ironically, my PhD dissertation at Los Alamos National Laboratory ended up being the development of a wildfire behavior model, which meant that I was working closely with foresters, spending time in the woods, and using the math, science, and computer skills that I had developed in school as an engineer.
At research and development institutions like Los Alamos and Sandia, the boundary between science and engineering is not black and white and in many cases the best teams have folks with both backgrounds. I am leader of a team that focuses on modeling a variety of complex processes in the atmosphere. The team is made up largely of atmospheric scientists, mechanical engineers, and computer scientists, and we work closely with foresters and ecologists, which creates a very strong mix of technical capabilities.