Name: Dr David Topping
Research institution: School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science, University of Manchester
Research career length: 10 years
Research Council: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Location: Manchester, England
Brief summary of research: How atmospheric aerosol particles influence our climate and air quality.
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, Geography
BSc in Pure Physics, UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology)
PhD – Modeling the hygroscopic properties of atmospheric aerosol particles - UMIST
Postdoctoral Research Assistant, National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), UMIST
Postdoctoral Research Assistant, NCAS, University of Manchester
Research Fellow/NCAS scientist, University of Manchester
Some research can take place almost entirely in a laboratory, while other studies look at complicated interactions that are vast in scale or that take place over very long periods of time. Researchers use powerful computers to produce ‘models’ of these types of events and phenomena. David Topping draws on his mathematics and love of science to build models that could provide valuable information about how to challenge climate change.
My current research uses computer models and a combination of mathematics, physics and chemistry, to understand how tiny atmospheric particles influence our climate and air quality. The atmosphere is full of these aerosol particles. Without them, there would be no clouds, since water vapour needs something to cling to. Clouds significantly influence our climate through their ability to reflect radiation. Discovering how these aerosol particles behave is important in understanding climate change, as well as providing information about air quality. Mathematical modelling helps us to understand the processes that affect these particles, how they respond under different conditions and how this leads to environmental effects. Testing these models, using a combination of laboratory and field studies, gives us the tools we need to try and resolve how the way we live affects the environment.
This research is a collection of large projects, involving many researchers both in the UK and overseas. My role is to ensure that all the different elements of these projects operate properly by detailed planning and project management, as well as directly conducting the mathematical model development. My other responsibilities include occasional lecturing, providing support for researchers at various stages of their career, and being a member of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) technologies review panel.
The factors influencing my career path include a general interest in the subject and support from teachers and parents. My parents supported me throughout, but allowed me to develop my own pathway, which I feel, is the best combination. Visits to institutions like NASA helped fuel the fire too. I was passionate about science – especially physics, however I didn’t receive particularly useful careers advice, until my Undergraduate degree when I was able to approach tutors and Lecturers for very helpful guidance.
Solving complex problems is very satisfying, as is seeing others use the tools I’ve developed, making me feel part of a worldwide research family. I have always had a passion for understanding how things work and I am fortunate enough for this core passion to run through my career. I find interaction with people around the world, invigorating and offers insights I would otherwise not have thought possible. I have also discovered that the nature of research can lead to the formation of friendships with those who have had very different experiences or backgrounds.
For the future, I want to continue pursuing this exciting area of research. I may choose to apply for a long-term research position, managing a team of researchers to work on different but connected projects, or I may decide to combine research with lecturing.