A German researcher in NIES - Tsukuba
Thomas P. Kurosu

Chasing Clouds

Kumo o oikakete-- chasing clouds. That best describes my personal and academic life for the last decade. But first some hard facts: I am a German citizen, born, raised and educated in Germany, now living in Boston, USA, where I hold the position of Physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am happily married; my wife Satomi is a Japanese citizen, and an associate professor of sociology at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Chiba-ken.

Kumo o oikakete. The early 90s saw me finishing my university diploma at the University of Mainz, Germany, in the esoteric field of theoretical elementary particle physics. Mainz, by the way, is famous for its annual carnival procession during the "Meenzer Fassenacht" and also produces some decent wine. For my Ph.D. thesis I decided to change from the esoteric to the environmental and accepted a research position at the University of Bremen to develop a cloud scattering algorithm for an Earth observing satellite instrument (GOME, the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment). Bremen is best known from the fairy tale about the four animals that set out to become the city's town musicians; for this they have to practice their singing -- something at which I fail dismally, which explains my aversion to karaoke.

Kumo o oikakete. After the completion of my Ph.D. and some time as a postdoctoral scientist in Bremen, I accepted an offer from the Smithsonian Institution to work at the SAO, also known as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to develop a cloud detection algorithm for the GOME instrument. As the name suggest, work at the SAO mostly focuses on astrophysics (the CHANDRA X-ray telescope has been largely developed here), and I am one of a handful of scientists who, when sitting on a satellite orbiting the Earth, "look down rather than up". Boston is one of America's most European cities and a wonderful place to live in. It is known for its historic role in the American war of independence: on December 16, 1773, a group of Bostonians, led by Samuel Adams and disguised as Mohawk Indians, celebrated what is known as the Boston Tea Party, presumably America's first attempt at making Iced Tea.

Kumo o oikakete. In 1998 I followed an invitation from Dr. Yokota at CGER to apply for an Eco Frontier Fellowship of the Environment Agency of Japan to work at the National Institute of Environmental Studies (NIES). Since the end of 1999 I have been dividing my time equally between Cambridge and Tsukuba. At NIES my work focuses on the detection of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) from the Japanese ILAS instrument. PSCs play an important role in the destruction of ozone at the North and South poles that gives rise to the annual formation of the ozone hole.

Kumo o tsukamaeta. Living and working in Japan for me is not just the stimulating work environment and the amiable colleagues at NIES; nor is it the gladly-endured tedium of a three hour daily commute to and from work, the strange pleasure of getting hopelessly lost and then miraculously finding my way back again, or the tummy aches developed from enjoying delicacies that I wouldn't have dreamt of eating before I came to Japan. Living in Japan for me means being with the most important person in my life, and with my Japanese family, who so patiently suffers the attempts at communication of their son-in-law. Kumo o tsukamaeta -- I caught the clouds. That is what I feel I have almost managed to do whenever I am here. I love being in Japan.