Derrick Lampkin is one of the newest members of our faculty in our department. He holds a B.S. and M.S. from Ohio State University and a Ph.D from the University of Arizona and is overall
a nice an ice guy.
What past careers have you had?
I have been an academic creature for most of all of my adult life. Periods between my academic pursuits, I have worked as a stock boy at Nordstroms Department store in West Los Angeles (where I grew up) and funny enough Pier One Imports, an art gallery assistant, sales assistant at a video store chain, security in the main library at Ohio State, a geotechnical specialist with a materials testing company, an analyst at the Ohio Departments of Geological Survey and Water Resources. Plus I worked every summer as a teenager on my grandparents race horse farm cleaning stalls and horses in rural Ohio.
What is the broad topic of your life’s research thus far?
I’m actually a planetary sciences freak. I am enamored with all planetary phenomena and I’m deeply inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune Science Fiction series as well as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Given all of that, I have spent all of my academic career studying ice. I started working on ice the second semester of my freshman year at Ohio State in the Byrd Polar Research Center (BPRC). I was there for a long while working on both Bachelors and Masters degrees. I was studying BIG ice (large ice sheets like Antarctica and Greenland). I then worked afterwards on seasonal snow covering the Colorado Rocky’s and northern Arizona and then returned to studying BIG ice as a professor. I am very much open to the possibility of expanding my research into planetary ice (places like Enceladus, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, Mars).
So, you conduct research in ice. What exactly do you do? What do you hope to accomplish in doing this? (What is the point?)
I mostly study ice sheets. They are cool and are important regulators in planetary systems that have ice (ice of any type). On Terra, ice affects planetary energy balance, ocean sea level, heat flux, currents, and is both a forcing and feedback in its interaction with the atmosphere. Its short and long term behavior is not well understood and prognostic models of future changing climate have very poor ice sheet representations.
Why did you choose this career path? When did you first realize this career was meant for you?
This is going to sound cheesy but I wanted to be an astronaut, like many 5 year old children, but I never let go. I sought to prepare myself to go to space. When I started attending college, I considered a path to working as an astronaut through science. I was deeply intrigued by planets and I took a planetary geology course and was hooked. That professor sent me to the director of BPRC who was doing research on Antarctica and Greenland and that is how I got my start in this line of research.
Have you written any textbooks? What important papers have you published?
No books (yet). I have worked on papers that examined the changes we are seeing in the supraglacial environment. A recent bit of work has characterized structures (water filled cracks in the margins of the world’s fastest flow ice stream in Greenland) and no one has examined these structures before. The implications of squirting melt water into the shear margins of an ice stream, which are its break is profound.
If you could hit the “Redo” button, what career would you choose instead?
I’d actually be an astronaut who still studied ice.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to Los Angeles at age 6. I moved several times throughout Los Angeles and spent two years in Miami and one year in Cleveland. Summers as a teenager were spent on my grandparents farm in eastern Ohio. They trained and raced horses. Horses suck, but the time on the farm was instructive and revealing in terms of my awareness of nature. The contrasts between rural Ohio and hyper-metropolis of Los Angeles was profound. I grew up in central-west Los Angeles and graduated from a magnetic program at North Hollywood High School just over the mountain with the famous Hollywood sign in San Fernando valley.
I’d spent many days riding my bike over Los Angeles along the coastal beach trails that were no more than a 45 minute ride from my home. My life in LA was not easy. We were working poor and lived quite modestly. The impact of those experiences has installed a deep sense and awareness of social justice.
What is your favorite memory as a youngster?
Wow. There are many. First time I received a personal letter from Charles Bolden and Col. Gregory (African-American astronauts). Sunny days on the bluffs behind of Santa Monica Pier staring out over the Pacific Ocean. My first expedition to Antarctica and my sophomore summer internship at the Smithsonian in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. Our drive across the US from Ohio to California when I was 6.
Do you currently have your own family/kids?
Yes. I have one son whose is two years of age. His name is Zoran and he’s a blast! I have a wife, who is Serbian and my beloved in-laws who are wonderful. My in-laws come to visit us often from Serbia and we visit them in their country. Serbia is a beautiful country with a rich history and important historical place both regionally and internationally.
What is the most exotic/interesting place you have ever visited?
For people-Venice Beach, California
Given the fact you’ve done field work on ice, which ice creature would you least (or most) want to encounter, a Wampa on the ice planet Hoth, a Yeti in the Himalayas, or a Wendigo in the Pacific NW?
I’d have to go for the Wampa. On my last expedition to the Antarctic Dry Valley I wrote a blog that was a veiled Star Wars-themed story but encapsulated real events that took place during the trip. I wrote that I was on a mission to Hoth to investigate a secret Imperial Garrison that was newly installed. I had some odd things happen to me on that trip and much of it was encoded in the blog story…
What is your favorite type of music? Who is your favorite band/artist?
I have a range of musical interests. Jazz, House, Hip Hop, Classical. My family is a family well established in music. My uncle was a professional Jazz artist and my Great-Grandmother a famous Gospel singer.
I have many favorite artists and my range is eclectic. I like Jean Luc Ponty, Stealy Dan, Handel, Mozart, Debussy, Andreas Vollenwieder, Slum Village, Mile Davis, Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), Incognito, classic Depche Mode and a dash of Snoop Dog here and there…
I was a musician early in my life so I played in stage band as a flutist in Junior High and continued to play this instrument inmarching band.
What kinds of hobbies do you have?
I was a competitive fencer (foil) in graduate school. I was an avid rock climber and I mountain biked (single track) quite a bit before my son was born.
I am a student pilot and close to completing my Private Pilot’s License for single prop VFR flying. I plant to continue with training for IFR flying and possible multi-engine. I was a student of Tai Chi Chuan and had a chance to study with a living mast of the Wu style while in grad school.
What is the most exciting thing you have ever done, or have ever been a part of?
My research expeditions are high on the list. Learning to fly (every lesson) is a mind blast!
What are you most passionate about, besides your research and career at the University of Maryland?
My family and my interest in understanding life and my purpose in it being here…