Staff >> Scot Rafkin

Scot Rafkin

Science & Technology Advisor

Advisory Council · Science and Technology Committee

I am a Planetary Atmospheric Scientist studying the weather and climate of primarily Earth, Mars, Venus, and Titan. Science has fascinated me my entire life. There was never a question in mind that I would be a scientist. I have also always been a rationalist, even though I was raised in the Jewish tradition with varying levels of belief within my family. I played along, including a bar-mitzvah, but I never bought any of it. Even as a young child, it was clear that the mythology had no grounding in reality. None of it made sense. I was born in northern New Jersey, but by the time I finished high school I had moved several times, bouncing between New Jersey, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and New York City. As I neared completion of high school in the mid 80s in the San Fernando Valley (the “Valley”) of Los Angeles, my attention turned to college. I was fortunate enough to get into UCLA, and when it came time to declare my major, I was stumped. I loved all science. How could I choose? I opened up the back of the catalog and alphabetically began marching through the possible majors. I quickly came to “Atmospheric Science” and stopped there. I found weather to be very interesting, so I became an atmospheric science major—mostly because it just happened to begin with the letter “A”. I could have just as easily been a biologist, chemist, or physicist, but these were farther down the alphabet. After earning my B.S., I continued my studies in Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, and emerged a little over seven years later. My Master’s thesis was on thunderstorm electrification and lightning and my Ph.D. dissertation was on the representation of thunderstorms in weather and climate models. I met my wife in Colorado and we married during the final year of my Ph.D. in 1995. After graduate school, I took a joint assistant professorship in the Department of Meteorology at San Jose State and the Earth System Science & Policy Department at California State University Monterey Bay. At about the same time, a small rover had just landed on Mars. The mission carried a very basic meteorology station, and I wondered if anyone had applied any of the Earth models I was using to do the same for Mars. Out of shear serendipity, the NASA Ames Research Laboratory was just up the road, and this was the very NASA center that was in fact involved in that type of research. A collaboration was born. Within six years, I had almost completely abandoned my Earth-centric research and was studying Mars almost exclusively. As I approached the seven year mark at the University, I had to make a choice. I could accept tenure at a primarily teaching university and give up most of my research, or I could move to an institution that would provide me with an opportunity to keep my research going. The decision wasn’t difficult and was aided by my growing dissatisfaction with academia, the horrendous cost of living in the Bay Area, and the possibility of a better environment for raising my daughter who was two at the time. I was fortunate enough to find a position in the Space Studies Department at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where I have been for almost ten years. I now currently manage the Planetary Atmospheres and Surfaces Section within the Department, and I serve on a number of professional committees as well as advisory committees to NASA. I have been involved in several missions, including the current Mars Science Laboratory currently in cruise on its way to Mars, and I have authored or co-authored over 50 journal and conference papers. Since moving back to Colorado, my son was born in 2005, and we’ve managed to accrete two cats and a variable number of chickens. Over the years, I have become increasingly vocal about the irrationality in the world. That includes, but is not limited to religion. As the Science and Technology Advisor for the NAP, I now have the opportunity to actively combat anti-intellectualism and to advance the goals of the National Atheist Party.