The University of Chicago News Office
July 31, 2002 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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Dave Fultz, meteorologist, 1921-2002

University of Chicago meteorologist Dave Fultz, an innovator in the design of laboratory experiments that provided insight into the fundamental large-scale air movements that create weather, died Thursday, July 25, at Montgomery Place retirement home in Chicago after a long illness. He was 81.

“The late Dave Fultz–gentle, kind colleague, an innovative thinker–is widely admired for pioneering work on laboratory models of the general circulation of the atmosphere,” said George Platzman, Professor Emeritus in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago.

Tom Spence, a senior research associate in the Geosciences Directorate of the National Science Foundation and a student of Fultz in the 1970s, also lauded Fultz as a meteorological pioneer.

“Dave developed a deep and abiding interest in fluid mechanics early in his career. He rightly perceived it as fundamental to understanding atmospheric phenomena,” Spence said. “Before the advent of sophisticated numerical modeling, Dave cleverly devised and systematically exploited a number of laboratory analogs to gain insight into many complex atmospheric processes, most significantly the atmospheric general circulation. His ‘dishpan’ experiments provided tangible examples of otherwise poorly understood physical processes.”

Fultz focused his experimental research on the patterns formed by rotating fluids in response to various mechanical and thermal forces. These patterns were designed to model the kinds of large-scale variable circulation that occur in the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. His research helped scientists understand the mechanisms of weather and climate change.

One of Fultz’s experimental devices was little more than a dishpan rotating in water that showed how the 5-mile-high jet stream in the air alters the weather as it moves up and down in its course from west to east across North America.

“His hydrodynamics laboratory was a three-star attraction, a favorite stopover by traveling scientists passing through Chicago,” Spence said.

Spence, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1973, still recalls Fultz’s near obsession with accuracy and completeness, both in laboratory observations and documentation. This characteristic made students cautious about selecting him as their adviser, Spence said.

“If so, I believe they deprived themselves of the opportunity to interact with a world-class scientist.”

Family and friends describe Fultz as a man of few words, but one who kept extensive notes that covered everything from weather events to the daily matters of family life. Fultz’s son, David, found this entry from when he was 10: “8:10 a.m. DL cooking breakfast; chaos.”

Despite his serious approach to research, Fultz occasionally displayed a witty and playful side to his personality.

“Every year the lab would have a Christmas party,” David Fultz said. “Appropriately for a hydrodynamics lab, they set up a tremendously complicated network of tubes, retorts, bubbling beakers, and valves that ended up in a simple spigot that dispensed punch.”

Fultz was born in Chicago on Aug. 12, 1921. He later traced his earliest interests in science to Albania, where he spent a year as a young teen-ager, and where his father had started the first vocational school for the Red Cross in the 1920s.

“They were literally teaching how to build the underpinnings of a modern society–the school built the first electricity generating plant in Albania–and my father learned along with the other students. He said he thought the first kernel of his scientific interests germinated there,” David Fultz said.

Fultz earned his S.B. in chemistry with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1941, and a certificate in meteorology in 1942, both from the University of Chicago. After brief stints as an instructor at the University of Puerto Rico and as an operations analyst for the U.S. Army Air Forces, he returned to the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in meteorology in 1947.

He joined the University of Chicago faculty as an instructor in 1946. By 1960 he had attained the rank of professor. He retired as a professor emeritus in 1991.

Fultz’s honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. He also received the Meisinger Award from the American Meteorological Society in 1951, and the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the society’s highest honor for atmospheric scientists, in 1967. Fultz in fact studied under Rossby, one of the original investigators of the jet stream and the founder of the University of Chicago’s meteorology department.

He served as a Guggenheim Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge in England in 1950 and 1951, and as a National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oslo in 1957 and 1958.

Fultz is survived by three children: Martha Monick, Iowa City, Iowa; David Fultz, Chicago; and Katie Fultz Hollis, Los Angeles; a sister, Joan Fultz Kontos, Washington, D.C.; and two grandchildren, Noah and Aaron Monick, Iowa City. A private memorial service were held Monday, July 29. Fultz's wife, Jean, died in 1998.

A high-resolution photo of Dave Fultz is available at
Last modified at 02:18 PM CST on Wednesday, July 31, 2002.

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