For research that engaged four or more distinct research entities in Colorado (with at least two being federally-funded labs) whose results leveraged the resources and strengths among partnering organizations – and demonstrate the power of collaboration.

Pathfinding Partnerships Award

Rapid-Response Science in Service to Communities after the Marshall Fire

This nomination recognizes the quick-response science and service conducted by a set of pathfinding partners at the first signs, during and after the Marshall Fire roared through Superior and Louisville, Colorado, at the end of 2021. A diverse team of researchers set to work immediately, collaborating seamlessly to figure out how to serve citizens in the short term as well as in the long term with weather and fire assessments and data. Partners from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) , CU Boulder’s Mechanical Engineering and Geography departments, the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory, the NOAA Global Systems Laboratory, the NOAA National Weather Service, and the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) helped ordinary people make extraordinary decisions, and their ongoing research promises to help guide wildfire response and mitigation long into the future.

For research that resulted in a technological solution with widespread and/or significantly measurable societal utilization, with related impact on a global challenge or issue.

Technology Transfer Award

Breakthrough Space Weather Model

Incoming space weather from the Sun can briefly blot out radio communications here on Earth, shift satellite trajectories, create ground currents that degrade power operations, and force the hands of airline and human space flight managers. It can be costly and sudden: Enhanced atmospheric drag from a minor geomagnetic storm, for example, an event that started on the Sun, led to the loss of 38 of 49 SpaceX Starlink satellites during a 2022 launch.

Scientists led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Weather Service discovered in their space weather research they could create a first-of-a-kind Whole Atmosphere Model and Ionosphere Plasmasphere Electrodynamics Model (WAM-IPE) which allows forecasters to provide better information to the public about potential impacts from solar storms. Collaboration with CIRES, CU Boulder, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, and NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center has brought this new model forward to provide crucial insight to various economic sectors—including communications, satellite and airline operations, human space flight, and navigation and surveying to mitigate damages.

For discoveries with impacts that have developed over more than 15 years, that have revealed profound new understandings of foundational science and/or theories within a given field and the resulting impact on society.

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Michael E. Himmel

A Storied Career: Michael Himmel Has Unraveled Complexities of Turning Biomass Into Climate-Friendly Fuels

As a biofuels researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dr. Michael E. Himmel has redefined his field with insights on designing, modifying, and harnessing enzymes to turn such non-food biomass into a thriving sustainable fuels industry. Dr. Himmel has led hundreds of scientific studies in protein biochemistry, recombinant technology, enzyme engineering, microorganism discovery, macromolecules physico-chemistry, and all unit operations in biofuels production. These include comminution, thermal chemical pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation. Individually, each brought important insights on how to overcome biomass recalcitrance. Together, they have helped facilitate a phase change in the U.S. bioeconomy—pulling discoveries and technologies from the covers of scientific journals right up to the cusp of commercialization.

Governments and industries seek affordable, scalable, and equitable solutions for quickly lowering greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. With carbon footprints many times smaller than fossil fuels, sustainable biofuels made from lignocellulosic biomass—the fibrous, often castoff parts of plants—could be critical for decarbonizing the aviation and maritime industries.

As a biofuels researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dr. Michael E. Himmel has redefined his field with insights on designing, modifying, and harnessing enzymes to turn such non-food biomass into a thriving sustainable fuels industry. During his 40-year career, Dr. Himmel has led hundreds of scientific studies in protein biochemistry, recombinant technology, enzyme engineering, microorganism discovery, macromolecules physico-chemistry, and all unit operations in biofuels production. In doing so, he has unraveled the chemical and biological complexities of using enzymes and bioprocessing techniques to turn lignocellulose into sugars—sugars industry can ferment to alcohols and then upgrade with catalysts into energy-dense fuels.

Dr. Himmel has written prolifically, producing 500 papers, 11 books, and 40 patents. His 2007 Science review article has alone achieved more than 4,600 citations—only a fraction of the more than 40,000 citations across his body of work. Dr. Himmel’s library of publications is frequently cited in leading journals, informing agency priorities and guiding multimillion-dollar investments. Now, with an agreement signed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Southwest Airlines, D3MAX, and others, Dr. Himmel is seeing the fruit of his career ripen in the form of a pilot plant now underway in Nevada, Iowa. The 10-ton-per-day lignocellulosic ethanol facility is long anticipated in the push to turn agricultural waste—like corn stover—into sustainable aviation fuel. Analysis shows the fuel could be less expensive than petroleum-based jet fuel and reduce carbon intensity by up to 84%—a defining achievement in Dr. Himmel’s already storied and impactful career.

This Award spotlights the discoveries and remarkable work of someone having more recently started on their path of scientific discovery. We look for significant demonstration of initiative, Inspiration, collaboration skills, and other skills and attributes, including the ability to inform and inspire others.

Outstanding Early Career Scientist Award: 
Dr. Rosimar Rios-Berrios

Dr. Rosimar Rios-Berrios

Dr. Rosimar (Rosi) Rios-Berrios is recognized internationally as an expert in the topics of mesoscale meteorology, tropical meteorology, and in tropical cyclones. Her expertise is sought after and appreciated broadly, as evidenced by the 14 invited talks in her CV and the three awards for outstanding conference presentations. Her research on tropical cyclones has examined mechanisms of cyclone formation, both in theory and in real-life examples. She led new work on understanding why some hurricanes strengthen when traditional theory expects them to weaken. This work gathered much interest from the tropical cyclone community, and it continues to inspire new scientific studies. Following this work, Rosi expanded her scope of research to investigate tropical rainfall in general. For this work, she developed a novel community tool, namely the “aquaplanet framework” using convection-permitting resolution in the tropics with MPAS-A, a cutting-edge model that can forecast storms across the entire globe. This framework includes novel diagnostics of tropical rainfall systems in the MPAS-A global model that facilitates the work of other researchers in addition to her own. This aquaplanet work is opening doors to several new research avenues, such as assessing the added-value of convection-permitting resolution in global models and exploring multi-scale interactions leading to tropical cyclone formation. These experiments leverage the latest computational advancements to run extensive simulations testing the sensitivity of tropical cyclone rainfall to thermal forcing in a changing climate (e.g., warming oceans and thickening clouds). Rosi is also collaborating on multiple field campaigns studying tropical cyclones and extreme precipitation. She has been involved in all stages, from the experimental design of the campaign, to coordinating the real-time modeling efforts, to managing radar operations and sounding launches during the actual field phase.

Rosi’s research is innovative and unique, combining transformative modeling research with a passion for observations and mentorship. Her growing group is one of the only research groups in the world using the aquaplanet framework with convection-permitting resolution to better understand the dynamics of tropical weather systems. These calculations are the first of their kind, and the results she has already obtained will have a major impact on the field. Further, Rosi is the only one exploiting the aquaplanet dataset through statistical analysis of weather phenomena. Rosi’s research is bridging the gap between the traditionally separate areas of weather and climate, crucial for understanding the impacts of future climate on humans.