Honoring success, supporting future achievement
Photo by Evan Krape March 17, 2022
Geography Professor Cristina Archer awarded Unidel Howard Cosgrove Career Development Chair in Environment
For 20 years, starting during her doctoral studies at Stanford University, Professor Cristina Archer has studied the atmosphere with an eye on how what she is learning can be used to improve lives. So far that has meant working in two main areas: air pollution and wind power.
“Of course I love all the calculations and the theoretical questions,” Archer said, “but then there's the engineering part of me that comes in and says, ‘You know, you're using all this time, all these resources and sure it's fun for you, but at the end of the day, how useful is what you're doing to humanity?’”
While Archer continues to ask herself some version of that question about every new project she undertakes, University of Delaware leadership has provided its own answer about the value of her work so far. In recognition of her achievements in her research, teaching and service to students, Archer was recently awarded the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Career Development Chair in Environment, joining an elite subset of the University’s faculty who hold named professorships. The Unidel Foundation created this award, which the University named in honor of Howard Cosgrove, a long-serving former chair of UD’s Board of Trustees.
"Dr. Archer has established herself as a global leader in connecting the physical geography of climate with engineering solutions to deliver economically and ecologically efficient wind power,” said Saleem Ali, chair of Archer’s home Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences. “The Unidel Cosgrove chair is a recognition of these accomplishments and support for her career advancement at UD."
Archer’s most cited paper was also one of her earliest and dealt with a question at the center of any attempt to harness the wind to create electricity: how much wind is available and where is it? In characteristic modesty, Archer downplays the difficulty of quantifying something invisible, ethereal and always moving, but she notes that her early paper had important real-world effects.
“Ironically, it's kind of easy procedurally in terms of the math or the tools used, but it was hugely important because there hadn't been very many studies at that time that were based on observations. And when you're doing something based on observations, not on modeling results, it carries more weight,” Archer said. “The other reason why it was impactful was that we found potential in areas that were not really known to have a lot of wind and so that also had implications.”
Archer joined UD in 2011 and continued to study wind and wind power, serving as an associate director of the Center for Research in Wind (CReW) until earlier this year, when she took over as CReW director. Her research at UD has explored the details of how wind farms could be best laid out to maximize the power they generate, possible impacts turbines have on weather and on surface temperatures, and the potential for wind power at various sites around the world.
The new named professorship will also serve to further solidify Archer’s standing in the field, as noted by Fabrice Veron, interim dean of the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment (CEOE) where Archer has her primary appointment.
“In addition to being a great honor earned by our most dynamic faculty, people like Dr. Archer, endowed professorships are essential for our academic success as an institution,” he said. “They emphasize not only the chairholders’ efforts but also highlight disciplines at UD with the potential for substantial impact. And they fuel further achievement. I am excited for Dr. Archer and eager to see where the next chapter of her career goes with this support.”
Archer is gearing up for a productive upcoming academic year, having recruited three doctoral students to start in the fall in three different disciplines. Trained as a civil and environmental engineer and having spent her career working on fluid mechanics in the atmosphere over land and sea, Archer is often at the nexus of multiple fields. Starting her first full year as the Unidel Cosgrove Professor, she will welcome new students in ocean engineering, geography and mechanical engineering. (In addition to her primary appointment in Geography, Archer also has appointments in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Marine Science and Policy.)
They may collaborate on some of their work, while courses and other projects will remain separate, but they will all benefit from Archer’s mentoring. In addition to her impactful research, Archer is the faculty director for the undergraduate Eco-Entrepreneurship Certificate offered by CEOE and Horn Entrepreneurship, teaches classes in air pollution meteorology, wind power meteorology and other environmental topics, and has guided seven students to doctoral degrees, with two more soon to finish.
Archer’s enthusiasm for making a difference has never been more apparent than it is now with her new named professorship and leadership role at CReW, whether seen in her exploring new research topics or planning for CReW’s future, including hosting an international wind power conference on campus this fall. She has ideas for additional offshore wind training on UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, the potential for a degree program in energy systems, and other ways to continue to develop the University’s renewable energy expertise, offerings and reputation.
“The named professorship is such an honor and a wonderful recognition by the University,” Archer said. “This named professorship has given me an incredible boost. I have accomplished so much recently because I am excited. I feel the fire again.”