Amos Lawless

‘The decisions you make are not final, you can often change within your lifetime even if at the time it seems like you’re deciding your whole life.’

Nationality: British

Religion: Roman Catholic

Occupation: Associate Professor, Mathematics and Meteorology departments, University of Reading

Research Interests: Data Assimilation and Inverse Problems

Personal Interests: Organising and attending both religious and cultural events linked to his church

Member of: SIAM and the Royal Meteorological Society

Childhood and Education

Electronics and chemistry sets were the source of a lot of fun for Amos as a child. He was fascinated by planets and had his own telescope. Wish I had a telescope! His interest in science and technology, though always present, was possibly strengthened by regular conversations with his Grandfather over news stories or even the theory of relativity. Sounds like a pretty cool Grandpa, right? Amos’ favourite subject at school was physics – in particular the applied side, for example relativity – though he was always most interested in the mathematics behind it all.

Due to having a mild form of Cerebral Palsy, Amos attended a school for disabled children. However, at just 10 years old, his potential was already apparent and his headmaster suggested he take an entrance exam for a private secondary school. Sure enough, he passed! Moving schools was an exciting change for Amos who settled in brilliantly and he was thrilled to indulge in such a variety of subjects right up to A Level. As most of us do, he struggled to decide what subjects to do in sixth form as he was also appealed by Classical studies. Supported by his parents who encouraged Amos to follow his passions and interests, he considered doing physics at university.

Amos attended York University where he achieved his bachelor’s degree in mathematics with education. Though he never intended to become a teacher, Amos had been inspired by some of his teachers at school and enjoyed the education aspect of his degree as it allowed him to explore areas he had always been interested in such as educational psychology and philosophy. He thrived in university life and was involved in plenty of activities including the catholic chaplaincy society.

Career

After completing his studies, Amos had identified a particular interest in mathematical modelling and applied for positions in this field. Unsurprisingly with his level of talent, the Met Office offered him a job straight after his degree and he joined their graduate scheme, completing 5 months of training first. After 5 years here, recognising the basis of his tasks at work, the Met Office funded Amos’ PhD at the University of Reading where he attended once a week. Result! It was a tough few years for Amos who was forced to sacrifice his social life on evenings and weekends to knuckle down and study at the end of his already long working days. We feel for you Amos! He stayed in this position for 4 years until eventually the office moved to Exeter and he took a postdoctoral position in Reading at the age of 30.

Amos, passionate about his subject, loved the fact that he had the flexibility to learn and explore the areas of maths that most intrigued him! He was able to take a longer postdoctoral position of 5 years alongside his 9 year role as a senior research fellow before getting a lectureship. Certainly no slacker is Amos! He is now a joint associate professor between the mathematics and meteorology departments, specialising in data assimilation and inverse problems. Throughout the duration of his PhD and also into his career as a research fellow and lecturer, Amos felt strongly influenced by his PhD supervisor who he learned many skills from.

Currently, his research is focused on data assimilation for coupled atmospheric-ocean systems which all relates to the applications of meteorology and oceanography. He works on combining computational models with data in order to initialise and understand the systems. To start a weather forecast, we need details on the current situation. These details are observed from satellites and weather balloons and can be put together to get the model state for a forecast. One of the main problems Amos is currently working on is trying to use data to initialise an atmosphere model coupled to an ocean model for weather and ocean forecasting. The Met Office want coupled models with both atmosphere and ocean where you use the data from both to initialise the whole system. Since the atmosphere and ocean have different time and space scales, the current methods used are inadequate. Amos is looking at how this can be done. Can he fix it? Yes he can! They have constructed a one dimensional column model of the atmosphere and ocean and will start by creating a one dimensional atmosphere and one dimensional ocean model using only 100 points going from the top of the atmosphere into the ocean, with no horizontal parameter. Amos hopes to take this a step further, taking still simplified models but in 3D linked to Met Office models to build a system combining all their theories and ideas. Using simple models, they can try lots of little things that can’t be done in larger systems. He is working on putting together a project with the Met Office and applying for funding for further research with only a 20-25% chance of success. Good luck! We’re right behind you Amos. Whilst all this is ongoing, Amos is also involved in many other projects answering many other questions. Bravo!

Among his numerous publications, more recently Amos has taken a particular lead on those related to coupled data assimilation. Despite it being a relatively new topic, it is one he has managed to accomplish something on and he is pleased to have had his first big grant applications accepted and to have produced research people are interested in. Well, Amos, the pleasure is all ours! Most of all, he enjoys researching with other people, especially PhD students, as it’s an opportunity to discuss the work which is much more interesting than facing it alone. I can believe that! Aside from the difficulty of writing exam papers year after year, Amos loves the perks of his job which he experiences in the teaching and interaction with students.

Alongside his lecturing and personal tutoring roles, Amos serves as Chair of the Staff-Student Liaison Committee, the School and Departmental Library Rep and Programme Director for Mathematics and Meteorology. Occasionally, he acts as a mentor, making an impact by helping people to think more widely and pointing out different opportunities, offering a different perspective and helping with applications for fellowships and promotions. This work gives Amos a sense of achievement in helping other people, staff and students, to develop – another perk of the job. As such, he leaves you with a little piece of advice…

“Follow your interests and do your best. Don’t worry about making wrong decisions. Sometimes it feels like you’re making a decision for your life but you never know what life will bring so don’t be afraid to follow something and see where it brings you. Follow the signs of what happens in reality to see where it leads. From my degree, I thought I wanted to do mathematical modelling and I applied to many places but the Met Office were the ones to offer me the job and that is how I ended up where I am today. Opportunities arise for a reason.”

Awards and Achievements

  • L F Richardson Prize from the Royal Meteorological Society
  • Awarded for talk given as postgraduate student

Trivia

  • Amos is fluent in Italian and often supports in translation within his church group
  • Outside of work, he gets involved in religious and cultural activities, attends church meetings and organises national events such as a recent science exhibition in London

Video Links

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3fIPrcldeM

Publications

Smith, P.J., Lawless, A.S. and Nichols, N.K. (2017), Estimating forecast error covariances for strongly coupled atmosphere-ocean 4D-Var data assimilation. Accepted for publication in Monthly Weather Review. doi: 10.1175/MWR-D-16-0284.1

Fowler, A.M. and Lawless, A.S. (2016), An idealized study of coupled atmosphere-ocean 4D-Var in the presence of model errorMonthly Weather Review, 144, 4007-4030.

Smith, P.J., Fowler, A.M. and Lawless, A.S. (2015), Exploring strategies for coupled 4D-Var data assimilation using an idealised atmosphere-ocean model. Tellus A, 67, 27025,

Lawless, A.S. (2012), Report from International Workshop on Coupled Data Assimilation, University of Reading, 10-12 Sept 2012.

References

  1. Face to face interview
  2. http://www.personal.reading.ac.uk/~sms00asl/
  3. http://www.met.reading.ac.uk/userpages/sms00asl.php
  4. http://www.reading.ac.uk/maths-and-stats/about/team/amos-lawless.aspx