A class offered for the first time this spring will offer answers to a math-related question that many students start asking about the time they hit algebra: How will I ever use this?

In this case, the new class in the Atmospheric Science Department at The University of Alabama in Huntsville will answer that question as it relates to the complex and mathematically intensive world of atmospheric modeling — the mathematical tools that scientists use to understand and predict the weather, and to study climate change.

"These models are also tools with a variety of practical applications," said Udaysankar Nair, the assistant professor who will teach the class. "This class will have a real world orientation, focusing on how we use research and modeling tools to help people make more informed decisions.

"The class will show students tools that they can use to help them understand the complexity of numerical models. More importantly, we will follow specific examples of projects from their research origins through the modeling process to the place where they become products that provide useful information to the public or to decision makers."

The course builds on the experience of scientists in the Atmospheric Science Department and UAHuntsville's Earth System Science Center who are involved in transitioning research to applications. UAH scientists are developing applications to assist in decision making related to forestry planned burns, oil spill impacts, aviation and farm planning.

"But these ideas are just scratching the surface," Nair said. "There is a tremendous potential for applications, both for government agencies and the private sector."

While the class is initially being offered only to students in the atmospheric science program, in the future it might broaden to include students with other numerical modeling skills learned elsewhere on campus.

"In the future we would like to evolve into more interdisciplinary work," Nair said. "There are so many possible uses for this type of modeling: Mapping ecological environments, biology, engineering, supply chain management. We want to expand into those areas.

"We train students to develop one set of skills within their discipline," he said. "There are a lot of opportunities out there, but they frequently require a different or additional set of skills. We want to open a new channel so our students can tackle these types of challenges."

"Numerical Modeling Applications" is being offered as a special topics (ATS 690) class this spring semester.

A new master's degree program in Earth system science should be in place for classes starting in August. This program will teach students who want to take research into public policy and decision-making areas. This new graduate program will focus on using and integrating geographical information systems, remote sensing technology, and numerical modeling.