Position: Coastal scientist, modeller National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Field: Wave dynamics, numerical modelling.
Dr Richard Gorman is a research scientist at NIWA in Hamilton. He uses numerical modelling to predict wave conditions in the oceans.
Sailing and the study of waves
As a youngster at school, Richard was interested in physics and maths, and this interest continued through university and into his career. He was also into sailing as a youngster, and this has impacted on his research interests.
Richard’s doctoral study was in particle physics, and he regained his enthusiasm for sailing on the holiday that followed the completion of his PhD, where he hitched a ride on a yacht up the Queensland coast and over to the Solomon Islands. “Getting back into sailing again – really enjoying being out on the ocean, seeing the waves go past, just the feeling of being away from it all, at the mercy of the elements…”
If you can find an elegant way of applying mathematics to a problem, that’s very appealing to me rather than just measuring numbers and seeing correlations.
A career shift
After coming back to the ‘real world’, Richard realised that there were not many opportunities for theoretical particle physicists and so he decided on a career shift and took on postdoctoral work on wave modelling. He points out, though, that waves are fairly universal – waves in particle physics and waves in the ocean can both be described by their frequency, wavelength, speed of travel and so on. This move into wave modelling has developed into a career that has lasted for 20 years to date. Richard has worked at various agencies in Australia and currently works at NIWA in Hamilton.
Richard’s present interest is in looking at relationships between large-scale and small-scale data. For instance, he works on how to get useful information from highly detailed 2-dimensional maps of the sea surface obtained by LIDAR. His thinking is driven by a desire to look for simplicity – in the elegance of mathematics, for instance – to help understanding of physical processes: “If you can find an elegant way of applying mathematics to a problem, that’s very appealing to me rather than just measuring numbers and seeing correlations.”
Richard says that he is still passionate about sailing and he harbours a dream to sail round the world one day. Information from the modelling of weather and waves would certainly come in handy for that!
Read more about Richard’s work on modelling waves in estuaries on the NIWA website.
Listen to this 2017 RNZ interview in which Richard talks about how advances in mathematical models, satellite technology and supercomputers is giving us an ever-clearer picture of how waves form and propagate across the ocean.
This article is based on information current in 2011 and 2018.