Monday, March 2, 2009

A tribute to Yoshi Sasaki

My advisor in graduate school was Prof. Yoshikazu Sasaki, who co-founded the OU meteorology program (with Prof. Walter J. Saucier - another great individual). I've already acknowledged Yoshi's importance to my career in an essay here. He was all that I could ever have asked for as my advisor!

It's my clearly biased opinion that he is the best professor that the OU meteorology program ever had and his track record of accomplishment will be difficult even to approach. I'm very proud to have been his student and don't believe he can get enough credit for his contributions - not just to meteorology but also the city of Norman and the state of Oklahoma.

He recently turned 80 and he's still busy with all sorts of projects, including helping younger meteorologists. However, I just learned some news today (02 March) I want to share:

Feb. 27, 2009
Dr. Yoshi Sasaki Day Declared in Oklahoma

To recognize Yoshi Sasaki’s hard work and dedication as a long-time member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Asian-American Affairs, Governor Brad Henry, by proclamation, declared Jan. 2, 2009, as Dr. Yoshi Sasaki Day in Oklahoma.

Sasaki is currently the George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus within the School of Meteorology and is also one of the founders of the school.

“It is an honor to be recognized for my work within the field and within the state of Oklahoma,” Sasaki said. “I have enjoyed my time spent on the Advisory Council and have seen much progress from the efforts of all involved.”

Sasaki’s interest in storm prediction began early with his studies at the University of Tokyo. His research topic as a doctoral student was the development of a numerical and objective prediction technique to track typhoons. This area of study was prompted by a typhoon which caused a ferry to sink and hundreds of people to lose their lives because of an incorrect subjective typhoon track forecast. Sasaki and a colleague received an award from the Meteorological Society of Japan in 1955 for their research on the development of the world’s first numerical prediction of a typhoon track.

Sasaki’s journey to the United States began after he finished his dissertation at the University of Tokyo in 1955. He and his wife Koko moved to College Station, Texas, where he accepted a position at Texas A&M as a research scientist.

While in Texas, Sasaki discovered that Oklahoma had the maximum frequency of tornado occurrences in the United States in the 1950s. However, OU did not yet have a meteorology program. He saw the opportunity for advancement in tornado research.

In 1960, Sasaki headed north to Norman and joined Walt Saucier to become a founding faculty member in OU’s meteorology program.

“Tornadoes and associated disasters stimulated my scientific interest to reveal the mysteries of tornadogenesis and to help develop accurate prediction technology toward the goal of protecting people and properties from tornado disasters,” Sasaki said. “It was my great feeling that I might be able to contribute something to protect people and properties from natural disasters.”

While at OU, Sasaki became the School of Meteorology’s first George Lynn Cross Research Professor in 1974 and the second Director of the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) from 1981-1986.

Techniques developed from Sasaki’s internationally-renowned research in variational data assimilation remain a cornerstone of modern-day meteorological analysis at operational weather prediction centers around the world.

Sasaki’s students have also achieved great things within the field of meteorology. Joe Friday, one of his earlier students and former Director of the National Weather Service, played a key role in securing significant funding from Congress, working with OU President David Boren, then a U.S. Senator, to establish the successful, first nationwide Doppler Radar Network for detection of tornadoes and severe weather.

"From the time Yoshi Sasaki arrived in Oklahoma in 1960, he has been engaged 110 percent, with not only the University, but the city of Norman and the state," said John Snow, dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. "Oklahoma has a stronger economy and is a better place to live because of his efforts over the last 50 years. Yoshi remains an excellent example of an outstanding faculty member fully engaged with the wider community."

Among his many honors, he has been elected as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, presented the Fujiwara Award from the Meteorological Society of Japan, awarded the “Order of the Sacred Treasure” by the Emperor of Japan and appointed as an Honorary Consul General of Japan.

In 2004, Sasaki was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame for his service to OU and the state of Oklahoma.

The Governor's Advisory Council on Asian-American Affairs was established to provide advice and assistance to the Governor on policy issues related to the arts, economic development, health and human services, human resources and education affecting the Asian-American population of Oklahoma. All Council members are appointed by the Governor.

I can't begin to detail the greatness of this man in a blog, but I certainly want to take this celebratory occasion to point out what a blessing it was for me to have learned from him. He and his wife, Koko, are among the finest people it's been my pleasure to know.


El Gran Rogelio said...

Hear, hear! I took a fantastic Dynamics II course from Yoshi (yes, densely difficult as the subject matter can be, Atmospheric Dynamics can be enjoyable with the right teacher). His blend of teaching skill, humor, efficiency, availability and patience with slower learners (I speak from experience there) made him the great teaching professor that he was. To this day I think of his "Yoshisms" with fond remembrance. For example...

We were in the second floor classroom by the pencil sharpener, in the old Engineering Lab. For the uninitiated, this was a WPA-vintage, asbestos-infused, rat-infested edifice that housed the School of Meteorology before it moved to the Energy Center (and later the National Weather Center). Light bulbs hung from wires in the hall, and rats could be heard in the walls on a daily basis.

One day, while Yoshi was explaining some concept of fluid dynamics, at least two big rats could be heard, loudly, scurrying along the inside of the ceiling tiles above. Quick-witted as always, he looked up toward the invisible rat race, then at us, smiled, and said in his engaging Japanese accent, "Ahhh, I see someone listen our lecture and not pay tuition!"

We laughed so hard, then Yoshi went right back to his explanation, as if never distracted.

Chuck Doswell said...

An update: At the most recent AMS annual meeting, Yoshi was named an "honorary member" of the American Meteorological Society. This is a very great honor, well-deserved, of course. There are only 35 honorary members!