Model Maker, National Medal Winner

The issues were different in 1954, when Warren Washington started his first year at Oregon State College. The country was caught up in Cold War fever, and governments were testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. Science was seen as key to national security, and the young student, fresh out of Portland’s Jefferson High School, had the knack.  He followed his dream to Corvallis, where he paid for his college tuition ($47 per quarter) and living expenses by washing dishes at Good Samaritan Hospital for $1 an hour.

Warren M. Washington, National Center for Atmospheric Research, CO, received the 2009 National Medal of Science medal from President Obama on November 17, 2010. Photo by Ryan K. Morris Photography

With a bachelor’s in physics and a master’s in meteorology from OSU and a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University, Washington went on to become one of the country’s leading climate modelers. On Nov. 17, 2010, he was among 10 scientists to receive the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony (click here to see the event in the White House archive). The President recognized Washington’s commitment to increasing the number of women and minorities in science and engineering, as well as his accomplishments as a climate scientist.

Today, the senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research considers our greatest scientific challenge to be a sustainable Earth. Changes in the Earth’s climate, he says, threaten to undermine the environment that has enabled civilization to thrive.

In a Nov. 3, 2010, interview at OSU, Washington advised today’s youth to ignore peer pressure and to follow their own dreams. And for those interested in science, he suggested focusing on the fundamentals in physics, chemistry and biology. That’s the kind of education he received at OSU, and it prepared him to take advantage of opportunities in his own career.

During a snowstorm on Marys Peak, he also learned that science has its life-threatening dangers. Listen to him tell his story on the video.

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