Today you might see Dr. Palmer driving around campus in his convertible, or having dinner with his family, but back in the 80’s, Dr. Robert “Bob” Palmer was just another college student at OU. He had always been interested in electronics and loved to build things. This led him to pursue his undergrad, masters, and Doctorate degrees in electrical engineering. Palmer’s interests spread over the years, and he quickly found a passion for weather as well. He incorporated meteorology with his PhD degree, using radar to study the atmosphere. He was even able to find some advisors who were also electrical engineers and worked at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.
After graduation, Palmer went to Japan’s Kyoto University for a post doc. “Working in Japan changed my life,” said Palmer. “I met my wife there, I fell in love with culture. My mother was Japanese, so I always had this affinity for Japan, but the post doc gave me an opportunity to experience it first-hand.” After returning to the US, Palmer did another post doc at Clemson University then earned a tenure-track position at the University of Nebraska in electrical engineering.
OU recruited Palmer back to Oklahoma in the early 2000’s to lead the radar program. Palmer grew to be the executive director of the Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC). The main goal of the ARRC is to use technical instruments to study the atmosphere. “We develop cutting edge radars that started out with a focus on studying severe weather and other atmospheric phenomena,” said Palmer. However, recently the center has started to expand their applications of radar to aircraft detection, bug and insect detection, and UAV detection. They also run mobile radars that go out every spring for storm research.
“We have a strong engineering division in the ARRC where we develop sophisticated phased array radars which are the next generation of weather radars,” said Palmer. You can see an example on top of the Radar Innovations Laboratory in South Campus. "If you look at our building from Highway 9, you'll see a big white thing on top with an OU logo. That is a cylindrical phased array radar.” Horace is another phased array radar project designed in the ARRC and funded by NOAA, the Office of Naval Research, and the Army Research Lab. It is an advanced radar that can do very rapid observations of severe storms in hopes of advancing the way we forecast.
At the ARRC there are both engineering and meteorology students, and several of Palmer’s PhD students in meteorology have simultaneously earned a master's degree in electrical engineering. Palmer has made huge strides in combining meteorology and electrical engineering and has received top recognition in both of these disciplines. “I'm what's called a fellow of the American Meteorological Society which means you're in the top 0.2% of members, but I'm also a fellow of the IEEE which is the International Electrical and Electronics Engineers. I love that I can blend two things that I’m passionate about and I’m very honored to be a fellow of both distinguished societies.”
OU is at the leading edge of radar research and it is certainly due in part to Dr. Palmer’s vision and leadership. The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences is lucky to have Palmer’s passion and partnership in advancing the future of weather radar.