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Introducing the 2011 ASciNA Award Winners Thomas Karl & Georg Stadler

bridges vol. 32, December 2011 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad
By Juliet M. Beverly

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From left to right: Philipp Marxgut, Director of the Office of Science & Technology; Thomas Karl, 2011 ASciNA Junior Principal Investigator Award Recipient; Friedrich Faulhammer, General Secretary, BMWF; Georg Stadler, 2011 ASciNA Young Scientist Award Recipient; Peter Nagele, Former ASciNA President

Thomas Karl and Georg Stadler met for their first time this year, at the New York Academy of Sciences during the annual Austrian Science Talk. Thomas Karl is an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Georg Stadler is a computational scientist at the University of Texas in the Center for Computational Geosciences and Optimization at the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES). Attending the Austrian Science Talk, they obviously share an Austrian passport; but Karl and Stadler also find their common bond in being the two elected winners of the 2011 ASciNA (Austrian Scientists and Scholars in North America) Award for the outstanding research they’ve conducted in their respective fields.

Thomas Karl is a physicist by training and received his Ph.D. from the University of Innsbruck in 2000. Influenced in part by the careers of his father and sister – both math teachers – George Stadler’s academic path led him to receive his  Ph.D in mathematics from the University of Graz in 2004.

Both Stadler and Karl actively fostered connections to their international project collaborators and other researchers in their fields during their Ph.D. studies, and this helped them to identify opportunities for postdoctoral fellowships in the US. In 2006, Stadler traveled to Texas to do a postdoc fellowship at ICES; and in 2000 Karl traveled to Colorado where he started as a postdoc at NCAR. From the time that they arrived in the US, Karl and Stadler managed to excel in their institutions, climbing the ranks from postdocs to tenured scientist and researcher positions. Although the years in the US provided them with great accomplishments, 2011 proved to be the year when much of their hard work was recognized as they became the 2011 ASciNA Award winners.

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The ASciNA Award

ascina_logo_emb.jpgAbout ASciNA:
ASciNA – Austrian Scientists and Scholars in North America – is an independent association established in 2002 with local chapters founded throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. ASciNA aims to support Austrian scientists and researchers in North America as well as Austrians who have returned from North America to Austria and Germany.

The ASciNA Award was established in 2008 under the ASciNA presidency of Eva Schernhammer (2004–2008), currently an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard University. Schernhammer, along with a group of fellow ASciNA members, initiated the idea of the ASciNA Award. The first award ceremony was held in 2008 in Vienna, Austria, by the former Austrian Federal Minister for Science and Research Johannes Hahn and was awarded in conjunction with the Wittgenstein Award (see the bridges report on the first ASciNA awards).

Only ASciNA members are allowed to submit applications for the ASciNA Award, and these are reviewed by an independent jury of scientists nominated by the Austrian Research Fund (FWF). The award is given annually to two young scientists who have remarkable achievements for work conducted in North America, demonstrated through their publications or projects in their field of research. Each award recipient is given a €10,000 prize endowed by the Austrian Federal Minister for Science and Research (BMWF).

Schernhammer well recalls the first ASciNA Award ceremony in Vienna. “It is wonderful that ASciNA was able to establish such an award. I think about the Award as a great opportunity for young Austrian scientists to get recognition in Austria for the significant scientific contributions they have made in North America as Austrians.”

Hubert Zajicek, the managing director of the North Texas Enterprise Center for Medical Technology, Inc. and the current ASciNA president, was among the group of ASciNA members that helped Schernhammer usher in the founding of the ASciNA Award. “The Award supports our mission to assist Austrian scientists and scholars before, during, and after a North American scientific or scholarly stint,” said Zajicek. “To ASciNA members, the Award serves as a symbol of Austria’s continued desire to stay in contact with the expat Austrian scientific community.”

This year the 4th ASciNA Awards Ceremony was held during the Austrian Science Talk 2011 in New York City at the New York Academy of Sciences. Karl received the ASciNA Junior Principal Investigator Award for his paper published in Science titled “Efficient Atmospheric Cleansing of Oxidized Organic Trace Gases by Vegetation,” and Stadler received the Young Scientist Award for his paper published in Science titled “The Dynamics of Plate Tectonics and Mantle Flow: From Local to Global Scales”.

Model Behavior

Georg Stadler talks about "The Dynamics of Plate Tectonics and Mantle Flow" at the 2011 ASciNA Awards.

Stadler is no stranger to the complexities of modeling: He and his colleagues have been recognized as the developers of new computer algorithms that for the first time allowed the simultaneous modeling of the Earth’s mantle flow, large-scale tectonic plate motions, and the behavior of individual fault zones. At ICES, his research focuses on applied and computational mathematics and applications for geophysics, mechanics, and imaging. Amongst others, Stadler currently works on a project on ice sheet simulation and inversion. This interdisciplinary project is in collaboration with the Climate, Ocean and Sea Ice Modeling (COSIM) Group at the Los Alamos National Lab. The goal of the project is to better understand and simulate the behavior of land ice dynamics as it pertains to ice rheology, bedrock boundary conditions, and ice-water interactions. The most significant part is the simulation of polar ice sheets: “Ice can flow like very thick honey”, said Stadler, “We simulate and try to better understand these flows. The fastest ice streams in Greenland and Antarctica can flow several 100 meters each year. As our climate changes, they are likely to speed up and, due to the additional ice ending up in the oceans, contribute to sea level rise.”

Thomas Karl speaking on his paper "Efficient Atmospheric Cleansing of Oxidized Organic Trace Gases by Vegetation" at the 2011 ASciNA Awards.

Meanwhile, at NCAR, Thomas Karl’s research focuses on the exchange of trace gases and energy fluxes between the surface and the atmosphere and how this can change in response to varying meteorological and climatic conditions. Today, Karl is readjusting after a short sabbatical visit for a collaborative project with the University of Innsbruck. He was in Austria during one of its longest-lasting periods without precipitation. This period was due to a persistent high-pressure system that is currently leading to significant accumulation of pollution in Austria. “If climate change predictions are correct, such long-lasting precipitation – less periods in conjunction with more intense precipitation events could become more frequent in Europe,” said Karl.

Recognizing and supporting the work of young scientists like Karl and Stadler will hopefully lead to research results that help convince policy makers and motivate politicians to put the right policies in place for adapting to and mitigating the consequences of our changing climate.


This article is based on interviews conducted by the author, Juliet M. Beverly, assistant editor of bridges.


Karl, Thomas, et. al. “Efficient Atmospheric Cleansing of Oxidized Organic Trace Gases by Vegetation.” Science. Published online October 21, 2010.<http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2010/10/21/science.1192534> (accessed November 10, 2011).

Stadler, Georg et. al. “The Dynamics of Plate Tectonics and Mantle Flow: From Local to Global Scales.” Science 329, no. 5995 (2010): 1033-38. <http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5995/1033.full> (accessed November 10, 2011).


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