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Dr. Steve Schneider talks about how he became interested in earth systems and in atmospheric research in this excerpt from an interview done by Gray Thompson in 1992

“I was actually born in New York City. I didn’t live in it until I went back to Columbia University 17 years later. And I grew up in [Woodmere,] Long Island. And what I remember enjoying a lot about Long Island before the developers hacked down all the woods was getting dropped off in a square mile of woods which I used to call “the deep, dark forest…” and run around and just enjoy streams and nature. And one day a hurricane came by, and I went back to the forest and half the trees were knocked sown and it all had been disturbed. And I came to realize even at the age of none that ecology and climate and soils were all connected systems. And not much happened for 15 years—it just sat in the back of my mind. Then later on, I suppose, these experiences were an emotional driver for getting involved in earth sciences. But that’s jumping way ahead… By the time I was ten years old, my “deep dark forest” was a housing development. Pretty painful to me. And I’ve been able to trace back to that event to come up with some of my passion for preserving what remains of wild nature… I started out in engineering. I liked racing cars when I was in high school. And I had an older brother and we’d go drag racing and I tended to be the mechanic and he was the driver. And I still remember finding an old high-ratio rear axle which had us win a whole bunch of trophies against all these guys with the souped up cars. And then, I remember when Detroit started designing cars, that when you turned the key they started and the heaters worked and they were faster than anything any of us were hand-doing. And I said, “You know, there’s something to be said for knowing the principles.” I went to engineering school to learn how to build the fastest race car—and that was a high school dream. And I don’t think I was there sic weeks before I got turned on by a different problem—going into space—the space program. Mechanical engineering student studying fluid mechanics, what’s called engineering physics. It was about one-third physics and the heavy math/science concentration, rather than the practical applications. So my practical initial notion was completely dashed by my own choice about a year and a half into school when I went more theoretical. But in a sense it all came out from recognizing that you make good products only by understanding how nature works and knowing the principles.

Anyhow, I went through all of this until somewhere around Earth Day 1970. I attended all these first Earth Day celebrations at Columbia. I was finishing up my thesis. I was toward the end, a little bored. I was working on a plasma physics problem—that’s high temperature gases that hopefully one day will produce electricity from pollution-free sources. Of course, it turns out it’s not pollution-free and it doesn’t work—yet. Those two things I didn’t understand at that age. But anyhow, listening to Earth Day presentation\, somebody said we could change the climate by our pollution—it could either heat it up if it’s greenhouse gases or cool it down if it’s sulphur injections—and I didn’t believe it.

I searched around the campus to learn more and there was one course in the atmospheric sciences taught at Columbia and it was a graduate seminar taught by a scientist named I.S. Rasool. He went over the difference between Mars, Earth, and Venus. And he said, you know, Venus is very hot with its very thick atmosphere and has a super greenhouse effect. And Mars is very cold with a very thin atmosphere and has a weak greenhouse effect. And the Earth is right in the middle. Venus is too hot for frozen water, Mars is too cold for liquid water. And Earth is just right and water makes us different. Pollution could, in fact, dirty the greenhouse window. When I discovered that, it was fascinating to me.

So I worked with him one summer—the summer that I was writing my PhD thesis and he made me a deal. He said, “Ill takle a chance on you if you take one on me. I will give you a post-doc to convert you to atmospheric science—to modeling the climate, mathematical model of the climate, if you’ll leave plasma physics.”

I thought long and hard about that. Should I switch fields in the middle? Is this foolhardy? I went through all this agony. And then I thought to myself, I always have wanted to do something that could protect the environment and preserve things. And what people are doing is they’re now modifying the atmosphere. They’re essentially using it as a sewer without a price—there’s no price to dump floating garbage in the air. And that, eventually, if you use the atmosphere as a free sewer long enough, it starts to “stink.” Now I don’t mean literally, I mean figuratively., of course. And in the sense that it could make the climate warmer or  colder, substantially, in a way that could affect life and us. So I thought long and hard and realized that the field of climatology, which had been 2200 years old going back to Thales of Miletus really was only five years old as a modern subject, because it took the computer and the earth satellite—the computer to process the data and run models, and the satellite to provide the bird’s eye view and the validation that you need to make sure that the models are reproducing the earth and not just come imagination of the computer programmer. Eventually I realized I was getting into a field that had hardly started…


Sometimes I feel like the dentist who tells you, “Why don’t you brush a couple of extra times?” Well, most won’t do it and the dentist does a booming business. Likewise, I keep saying to the world, “Why don’t you use energy more efficiently and put me out of business?”

The University Archives recently completed a CLIR-funded project to process the papers of the late Dr. Stephen Schneider. Steve was a professor who taught Bio 15N, Bio 147, ES 10, ES 15 and ES 179, among other classes. Steve was very well-liked by students and collaborators alike per his student and peer evaluations. Steve grew up on Long Island and attended Columbia University, where he received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD.

Dr. Schneider was very much in demand as an author, a reviewer, a public speaker and a spokesperson. He was instrumental in the creation and presentation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared (in equal parts with Al Gore) the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.  Steve served on IPCC working groups from its inception in 1988 until his death in 2010.  IPCC reports continue to be generated, as IPCC is an internationally accepted authority in climate change, with reports that cover "the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation."

Steve lived in a “green” energy-efficient home and mentioned driving a Prius but he acknowledged his ironically large carbon footprint from near-constant air-travel. Steve survived a bout with mantle cell lymphoma, applying his scientific principles to his medical treatments, and wrote a book about it: “The Patient from Hell: How I worked with my doctors to get the best of modern medicine and how you can, too.”

Dr. Schneider died returning from a scientific meeting in Sweden and is survived by his wife, Stanford professor Dr. Terry L. Root and two adult children from a previous marriage.


The University Archives recently collaborated with faculty in the Computer Science Dept. to create a collection in the Stanford Digital Repository of white papers for an upcoming NSF summit on the future of computer science education.

September 22nd marks the beginning of banned books week. Cubberley has a display of just a few of the many banned/challenged children’s and young adult books. Topping the YA list this year is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. His book was challenged by two school districts this past year for “…explicit sexual references, encouraging pornography, racism, religious irreverence, and strong language.” He is used to it however, as his books frequently make the most frequently challenged list.

In addition to relocating the Manuscripts Division of Special Collections to SUL’s Redwood City (RWC) Location in October, the division is moving ahead with a recently funded Educational collections project.

This two-year project will prioritize processing for collections that contain or focus on the history of education. Those identified at this point are the records of EdSource (educational policy and legislation), and the Amado Padilla papers (faculty in the Department of Education at SU), and the Ruth Asawa papers (San Francisco School of the Arts – SOTA).

Shirley Brice Heath writes, "Adults read for meaning while children look for meaning." (Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature, p. 40)  Nowhere is this more evident than in picturebooks where the story is told entirely in pictures.  Kelly Roll has created a list of Wordless picturebooks that can be found in Cubberley Library's collection.

Covers of two of the many fantasy titles in Cubberley Library.

Now that the brunt of the academic year is over Cubberley Library invites you to read something a little lighter. The library currently has a display of young adult fantasy books perfect for reading at the beach. If fantasy isn’t your thing we also have a wide variety of other genres as well. So even if you no longer quite fit in the Y category and are a lot more A you might still find something enjoyable to read. We’ll be more than happy to point you in the direction of our curriculum collection where these items are housed.


Image from Story hour readers, primer by Coe & Christie, p. 14

Did you know that Cubberley Education Library has a large collection of textbooks and children's books dating back to 1800?  Items with call numbers beginning with OTx must be used in the library, but other titles can be checked out.