Tiffany A. Shaw

The University of Chicago

2017 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

Robert E. Kopp, Michael P. Lamb, Yan Lavallée, Wen Li, and Tiffany A. Shaw were awarded the 2017 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding early career scientist.”


Tiffany Shaw has done fundamental work explaining the atmospheric dynamics of tropospheric and stratospheric processes using a combination of numerical modeling, basic theory, and analysis of observations. Her work has had a broad impact beyond atmospheric dynamics, including improving global climate models, which are used in climate, paleoclimate, planetary science, and exoplanet research, and explaining important aspects of the Indian monsoon and jet streams, which are important for agriculture, geology, and geochemistry.

Tiffany began her career studying mathematics and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. She then did her Ph.D. in physics at the University of Toronto under the guidance of Ted Shepherd. Her Ph.D. contribution included theoretical developments related to gravity wave drag parameterization that have helped improve global climate models. Her key physical insight was that the middle atmosphere is driven by nonlocal wave forcing and is connected through it, so that violating momentum conservation can have grave, unintended consequences on the modeled circulation.

Tiffany then spent time as a research assistant professor at New York University and then as a postdoc and assistant professor at Columbia. During her time in New York, she improved our understanding of ­stratosphere–​­troposphere coupling and its role in tropospheric climate variability and anthropogenic climate change. She also advanced our understanding of tropospheric moisture and momentum transport between the tropics and the midlatitudes, especially in relation to stationary eddies and the rapid onset of the monsoon.

Since 2015, Tiffany has been on the faculty at the University of Chicago, where she recently received tenure. Here she has continued to branch out from the stratosphere to the troposphere and from the midlatitudes to the tropics. It is now fair to say that Tiffany has made significant contributions to nearly every major area of atmospheric dynamics.

Tiffany’s approach to problems has included abstract mathematical manipulation and interpretation, clever use of global climate models, and careful analysis of observational data. She has dirtied her hands with projects that had appeared too messy to many atmospheric dynamicists and has solved problems that not only have beautiful solutions but also are interesting to a wide community of researchers working in climate and other areas. Her work has already had a tremendous impact, and it will continue to do so for years to come.

—Dorian S. Abbot, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.


Thank you, Dorian, for your kind words. It’s been a pleasure to be your colleague these past few years, and I look forward to many more. At the University of Chicago, I’ve become a better scientist because I’ve been pushed to ask big questions.

I’m truly grateful to AGU for this honor. Many people have contributed to my success, and I would like to thank each in turn. I would like to begin by thanking my collaborators, postdocs, and students for joining my quest. I share this award with you.

As an assistant professor, I received invaluable support from my colleagues at Columbia University, in particular, from Professors Arlene Fiore, Lorenzo Polvani, and Adam Sobel. I doubt I would have received this award without their support.

As a postdoctoral fellow, I had the pleasure of working with Professor Olivier Pauluis and Dr. Judith Perlwitz. They expanded my horizons and got me thinking about important processes in the troposphere.

In the very beginning I was fortunate enough to be advised by Professor Ted Shepherd at the University of Toronto. I owe much of my scientific rigor and intuition to him. He instilled in me the importance of using theory for its own sake as well as for practical purposes, for example, to improve climate models.

Finally, I want to thank my family, especially my newborn son, Henry. I look forward to exploring science and the humanities and sharing my future discoveries with you.

—Tiffany A. Shaw, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.