Acclaimed climate science pioneer Warren Washington made history at Penn State in 1964 by becoming the second African-American to earn a doctorate in meteorology nationwide.
It’s only fitting that his name adorn a building at Penn State’s Innovation Park, the first to be named for a University innovator and pioneer. The newly named Warren M. Washington Building, located at 328 Innovation Blvd., will officially earn its distinction Friday, May 17, in a ceremony featuring Washington and Penn State President Eric Barron. Barron announced last year the building would be named after Washington during a symposium in Washington’s honor.
“We asked the deans to nominate pioneers and innovators so the buildings at Innovation Park have names and not numbers,” Barron said. “I’m very pleased that Warren Washington was the first nominee and will be honored with the first named building. He is an inspiration, an internationally recognized expert in atmospheric sciences and climate research, and a mentor who has long helped individuals live the life within them.”
It’s also fitting that the building houses the National Weather Service, an organization that uses weather and climate models pioneered by Washington while at Penn State and during his decades of service at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR.)
“When I first came to Penn State, one of the research goals was to improve the daily weather forecasting,” Washington said. “But that soon morphed into bigger things. I’ve always been interested in how meteorology could provide a public benefit but also spark innovation and investment from private companies. This relationship has led to greater investment in science and continues to improve weather and climate forecasting.”
The building is one of many accolades for Washington, who dedicated his career to advancing science as much as advancing science opportunities for underrepresented individuals. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report and was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama for his “development and use of global climate models to understand climate and explain the role of human activities and natural processes in the Earth’s climate system” and for his work to support a diverse science and engineering workforce. This year, he received the Tyler Prize with Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State.
Before coming to Penn State, he was bridging the gap between experimental science and innovation at the Stanford Research Institute, and he continued to build on that work throughout his career. At UCAR, where he worked from 1963 until retiring in 2018, Washington advised six consecutive U.S. presidents — from Jimmy Carter through Obama — on climate change.
In the early 1960s, Washington recognized the potential of computers to revolutionize our understanding of Earth’s climate and helped developed one of the first coupled atmospheric and ocean computer models to study the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on global temperatures. His groundbreaking work advanced the field of numerical climate modeling, allowing scientists to predict future atmospheric conditions and better understand climate change.
Washington mentored graduate students — including Barron — as well as undergraduates in the UCAR-based Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science, or SOARS, program.
In 1999, Washington won the Dr. Charles Anderson Award from the American Meteorological Society “for pioneering efforts as a mentor and passionate support of individuals, educational programs, and outreach initiatives designed to foster a diverse population of atmospheric scientists.” He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Meteorological Society, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a past president of the American Meteorological Society and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
Erwin Greenberg — chairman and founding partner of GLP, the exclusive developer of Innovation Park under agreement with the Penn State Research Park Management Corporation — and Lee Kump, John Leone Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, will also speak at the building dedication.