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Community Spotlight - Dr. Dixon Butler

Community Spotlight:  Dr. Dixon Butler

From Chief Scientist to GLOBE Director to NASA consultant … Dr. Dixon Butler's connection to the GLOBE Program has, in many ways, come full circle.

Butler earned multiple degrees in physics and chemistry at Harvard University and received his doctorate in space physics and astronomy from Rice University. Following graduation, he began his working career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 1976. One of his first assignments: model stratospheric ozone depletion. This was a collaborative affair as he worked with European scientists from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.

In 1981, Butler began a part-time assignment at NASA headquarters working on the management of the space agency's atmospheric science research programs. Butler soon became part of the team planning the mission that came to be known as the Earth Observing System (EOS). During the same period, Butler took on management of the modeling and data analysis portions of NASA's stratospheric research program and worked with international scientists to produce reports assessing the state of knowledge and model predictions about ozone depletion. He took over leadership of the group planning EOS in 1983, which led to extensive coordination with the Earth observation programs of the International Space Station (ISS) partners at the time: the European Space Agency, the Japanese space agencies, and the Canadian Space Agency.

These various international experiences in science and mission coordination prepared him well for the international scope of The GLOBE Program. He was appointed GLOBE Chief Scientist in 1996, a position he held until 2003. In this capacity, as well as in his current role as assistant to the Program sponsor (Ming-Ying Wei of NASA) to support the GLOBE Program, Butler has served GLOBE for almost a decade.  

"I believe in the Program and always am looking to improve it and see its participation and effectiveness expand. GLOBE is compelling as an idea and its realization. For most who have been actively involved, it never lets you go. As our world confronts an increasing set of challenges that involve science and require inclusion of scientific approaches to addressing them, I think GLOBE offers the means to prepare future citizens who can bring scientific thought to bear whether they are doing the research, guiding businesses and governments, or just making good choices in their lives."

Students can find many benefits from participating in GLOBE, asserts Butler.  "There is the chance to make meaningful contributions as grown-up scientists do by taking scientifically valid observations of Earth. GLOBE provides structure, procedure and guidance to equip students to follow their curiosity about their surroundings. Through GLOBE, students join a worldwide community of young people with common interests and experiences coming from diverse places and backgrounds to communicate, share and learn with one another. GLOBE provides a basis or platform enabling teachers to offer instruction that involves students doing science and learning scientific habits of mind that hopefully become valued by students as their intellects are enriched and their understanding of their world is expanded."

Nowhere are the cultural and intellectual boundaries of GLOBE students stretched more than at the GLOBE Learning Expeditions (GLEs). GLEs are organized every few years in order to provide students from around the world the opportunity to present their research projects to their peers, to GLOBE scientists and the greater GLOBE community. Butler participated in the first GLE in Helsinki, Finland in 1998 and again in Šibenik, Croatia in 2003. "The student attendees in Helsinki were so diverse and impressive and quickly bonded together in friendship. We camped out in the woods for two nights in tents, taking measurements in many different settings in the surrounding countryside. We learned about sauna and experienced the summer sunlight lasting until almost midnight. The Finn-led organizing team created an effective enjoyable experience for us all." 

At the GLE in Croatia five years later, "The hosting by the Croatians was also exemplary as was their national commitment to GLOBE, the spirit among the attendees and their embrace of GLOBE. I particularly remember the presentation of good research projects that students had done in order to qualify to attend the meeting. We did measurements on an offshore island that was used as a summer camp and were transported to and from the island on a landing craft. When we returned to the mainland, the craft let down its tremendous back which became a ramp leading onto the sand. Everyone piled off to the astonishment of the beach going tourists."

Yet another memorable GLOBE event for Butler was a train-the-trainer workshop in Kyrgyzstan in 1998, on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, where he trained atmosphere and hydrology protocols. "The workshop was held in Russian – the common language of the roughly 80 Peace Corps volunteers, Kyrgyz, and Kazak trainers who attended. I speak no Russian, so three 19-year-old Kyrgyz college students served as my translators. I began by quickly going over with them all the material and protocols I was to train while preparing the equipment. They quickly understood everything and by the end of the week, I would say the first few words of a paragraph or more of what I needed to be said to the trainees and they would complete the whole statement in Russian. They were incredible and so were the trainees who were so ready to learn scientific measurement techniques."

Butler points to many examples of what makes GLOBE unique in the field of science education. GLOBE pioneered the simple idea of having K-12 students contribute research quality measurements to the monitoring of the global environment. This simple idea required extensive work combining science, education, training, and technology. In addition, it grew an international community with a shared love of the Program. "GLOBE is a unique combination of commitment to intercomparable scientific research measurements, diverse, locally determined educational approaches, and a web site bringing together the participants and their data contributions to benefit humankind through better understanding of the environment, improved science, technology, engineering and math education and increased awareness of our shared planet Earth and our interrelation with it."

GLOBE has been well served by Dr. Butler and he is keenly appreciative of how the Program has benefitted him personally and professionally. This is an observation that resonates among a multitude of GLOBE participants around the world.

type: globe-news

News origin: GLOBE Implementation Office