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Research rains down for Chapman undergrad

November 24, 2010

Dr. Amitai with student Bryson Thill. On the laptop is a slide Thill created with earth observing data.

Junior computer science major Bryson Thill was hoping to find a job. But he never imagined that when he did land one, it would be connected to sophisticated NASA research on rainfall measurement.

Thill is the first student research assistant with Chapman University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences to be paid from a NASA grant. Under the guidance of Eyal Amitai, Ph.D., associate professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Chapman University is the lead investigator on a grant trying to understand why surface-based and satellite estimates of rainfall produce different results.

Dr. Amitai hired Thill after being impressed by the student’s work in his physics 101 class and says he is delighted to have a computer scientist analyzing the data. Thill’s primary task is to compare and study the data scientists collect, using computer modeling and other strategies. Some of his work was already showcased at Schmid College’s recent faculty research expo, where Amitai showed slides created by Thill that demonstrated differing rainfall measurements taken in the Southwest.

“He does things on the computer that I can’t,” Dr. Amitai said.

Thill, 20, is happy to already be in the research loop.

“I think it’s really cool that I can just jump right in and start getting involved in research,” he said.

NASA hopes the research can explain the difference in readings and improve the accuracy of satellite measurements. The research is connected to NASA’s earth observing programs. Global precipitation measurement has implications for predicting climate, flood hazards and weather, as well as for policy makers who wrestle with a variety of issues, from water management to natural disasters.

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