Image courtesy of Roberta Johnson

Roberta M. Johnson

First Lady, University of Illinois, 2015 - present
(Ph.D., Geophysics and Space Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, 1987)

In 1994, I was lucky enough to have a chance to propose the Windows to the Universe project to a NASA solicitation, and be successful in a very competitive selection process (~300 proposals, about 25 selected for funding).  Our project started in February 1995, and since that time, until August 31, 2016 (more than 21 years!), I've had the joy and honor of directing this project, and working with wonderful colleagues.  I'm so honored to have been awarded the American Geophysical Union's Athelstan Spilhaus Award, in recognition of my effort in "enhancement of the public engagement with Earth and space sciences," in large part because of the impact of this project.  

I have sometimes have referred to this project as my fourth child - it certainly took that amount of dedication and time!  Of course, eventually parents need to let their children go, as I am learning with my three real children.  This realization has become very real to me of late, as my life has taken an unexpected and overwhelming turn that has caused me to have to make very significant adjustments to my life and career. 

And so I'm very happy that this project has found such an appropriate home at the National Earth Science Teachers Association, which I had the pleasure of serving as Executive Director from 2006-2015.  I wish the leaders at NESTA well in building on this tool for geoscience education, and hope that they are able to take it beyond the current ~12 million visitors annually, continuing to serve learners and educators around the globe. 

I leave the rest of my bio, below, as it was prior to my resignation as Director of Windows to the Universe.  Although I will not be directing the project in the future, I will be helping as needed, behind the scenes.  I wish you all well in your efforts to understand this wonderful planet, solar system, and universe in which we live!

All the best, Roberta!


Old bio:

I'm a faculty member in the University at Albany Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Science focusing on environmental science, climate change, geoscience education and science literacy.  I'm also the Executive Director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the Founder of the Windows to the Universe project,  My role in Windows to the Universe is mainly to deal with all the management and administrative issues, and to work on development of the site.  This includes a new project to develop an undergraduate level of the website, which I will be undertaking beginning fall 2012 with colleagues at the University at Albany. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a group of really creative, dedicated people who really enjoy working to build and maintain a science education web site that serves so many people on a daily basis.

I was born and raised in California, and grew up in the Los Angeles area. Although my interests as a kid and young adult focused on history, archaeology, and linguistics, I ended up following the advice of my parents (who helped pay the bills) and went into science. I developed a particular interest in the idea of applying concepts of physics to the Earth around us as well as in climate changes in the distant past, and decided to get my degree in Geophysics and Space Physics. I attended the University of California at Los Angeles and received B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Geophysics and Space Physics in 1980 (cum laude), 1984, and 1987, respectively.

After getting my Ph.D., I became a Research Physicist at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA in 1987. In that position, I was a member of a group responsible for operation of the Sondre Stromfjord incoherent scatter radar (ISR), funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF). I've spent a lot of time studying the upper atmosphere at ionosphere, particularly at high latitudes, and have had the opportunity to visit some facinating and far away locales in the pursuit of my research. In 1989, I joined the Space Physics Research Laboratory of the University of Michigan as a Research Scientist where I remained until 2000. During this time I initiated the Windows to the Universe project, with the help of colleagues from across the country, and was also the Director of the Michigan Space Grant Consortium from 1995 through 2000. I joined the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado in June of 2000 as the Director of the Education and Outreach program as well as a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research's High Altitude Observatory. In 2006, I was appointed Executive Director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA). NESTA is a nonprofit educational organization, founded in 1983, whose purpose is the advancement, stimulation, extension, improvement, and coordination of Earth Science education at all educational levels. In 2010, I moved my appointment to NESTA as Executive Director and CEO of Windows to the Universe.  Most recently, in August 2012, I joined the faculty at the University at Albany.

Along the way, I've continued to pursue research interests in several areas, including modeling and analysis of aspects of the coupled magnetosphere ionosphere thermosphere system, paleoclimatology, isotope geochemistry and atmospheric chemistry. I've directed the research of Ph.D. and Masters degree students. I have served on numerous advisory boards for projects in science education, outreach, and diversity, and have extensive experience advising the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and a variety of professional societies. I recently chaired the Ad Hoc Review Panel on Science Education for the International Council for Science (ICSU) and serve as an education consultant to the Future Earth project.  I'm involved in numerous committees that work to bring the geosciences to students and teachers through professional societies, as well as an advisor on specific projects, and have ongoing collaborations with numerous colleagues and organizations working on geoscience education and science literacy efforts. I am currently serving as a member of the Climate Change Education Roundtable of the National Academies of Science.

I'm married and have three spectacular children. My greatest joy is being their mom, but I also enjoy gardening, cooking, sewing, needlecrafts, camping, and travelling. I've always been interested in history, art, languages, climate, and archaeology, and really enjoy bringing together resources within Windows to the Universe that highlight the connections between science, space and the human experience. I hope you enjoy our site!


Last modified August 28, 2016 by Roberta Johnson.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA