Sept. 26, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 1

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    Meteorologist Fultz pioneered circulation models

    University meteorologist Dave Fultz, an innovator in the design of laboratory experiments that provided insight into the fundamental large-scale air movements that create weather, died Thursday, July 25, at Montgomery Place retirement home in Chicago after a long illness. He was 81.

    “The late Dave Fultz–gentle, kind colleague, an innovative thinker–is widely admired for pioneering work on laboratory models of the general circulation of the atmosphere,” said George Platzman, Professor Emeritus in Geophysical Sciences at Chicago.

    Tom Spence, a senior research associate in the Geosciences Directorate of the National Science Foundation and a student of Fultz’s in the 1970s, also lauded Fultz as a meteorological pioneer.

    “Dave developed a deep and abiding interest in fluid mechanics early in his career. He rightly perceived it as fundamental to understanding atmospheric phenomena,” Spence said. “Before the advent of sophisticated numerical modeling, Dave cleverly devised and systematically exploited a number of laboratory analogs to gain insight into many complex atmospheric processes, most significantly the atmospheric general circulation. His ‘dishpan’ experiments provided tangible examples of otherwise poorly understood physical processes.”

    Fultz focused his research on the patterns formed by rotating fluids in response to various mechanical and thermal forces. These patterns were designed to model the kinds of large-scale variable circulation that occur in the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. His research helped scientists understand the mechanisms of weather and climate change.

    One of Fultz’s experimental devices was little more than a dishpan rotating in water that showed how the 5-mile-high jet stream in the air alters the weather as it moves up and down in its course from west to east across North America.

    “His hydrodynamics laboratory was a three-star attraction, a favorite stopover by traveling scientists passing through Chicago,” Spence said.

    Family and friends describe Fultz as a man of few words, but one who kept extensive notes covering everything from weather events to the daily matters of family life. Fultz’s son, David, found this entry from when he was 10: “8:10 a.m. DL cooking breakfast; chaos.”

    Despite his serious approach to research, Fultz occasionally displayed the witty and playful side to his personality.

    “Every year the lab would have a Christmas party,” David Fultz said. “Appropriately for a hydrodynamics lab, they set up a tremendously complicated network of tubes, retorts, bubbling beakers, and valves that ended up in a simple spigot that dispensed punch.”

    Fultz was born in Chicago on Aug. 12, 1921. He later traced his earliest interests in science to Albania, where he spent a year as a young teen-ager, and where his father had started the first vocational school for the Red Cross in the 1920s.

    Fultz earned his S.B. in chemistry with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1941, and a certificate in meteorology in 1942, both from Chicago. After brief stints as an instructor at the University of Puerto Rico and as an operations analyst for the U.S. Army Air Forces, he returned to the University, where he earned his Ph.D. in meteorology in 1947.

    He joined the Chicago faculty as an Instructor in 1946. By 1960 he had attained the rank of Professor, and in 1991, he retired as a Professor Emeritus.

    Fultz’s honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. He also received the Meisinger Award from the American Meteor-

    ological Society in 1951 and the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the society’s highest honor for atmospheric scientists, in 1967. Fultz in fact studied under Rossby, one of the original investigators of the jet stream and the founder of the University’s Meteorology department.

    Fultz is survived by three children: Martha Monick, Iowa City, Iowa; David Fultz, Chicago; and Katie Fultz Hollis, Los Angeles; a sister, Joan Fultz Kontos, Washington, D.C.; and two grandchildren, Noah and Aaron Monick, Iowa City.

    A private memorial service was held Monday, July 29. Fultz’s wife, Jean, died in 1998.