Get to Know...

In the spirit of getting to better know our fellow faculty and grad students, each month we will feature a new "Get to Know.." profile for one professor and one grad student. Check back here the first of every month to see who we pick and find out more about what interesting research they do and what some of their hobbies and interests are! So join us now as we get to know...

Grad Student - Fang Zhao


Academics / Career

What is the broad topic of your life’s research thus far?

I like to study human-nature interactions. Previously, I examined the impacts of Three Gorges Dam in China on regional climate using ground observation and TRMM satellite data. I then came here to learn modeling for my PhD.

Right now, my research focuses on analyzing the amplitude increase of the CO2 seasonal cycle. Let me explain: vegetation on Earth breathes in CO2 and breathes out oxygen. Because there is more land in the Northern Hemisphere, CO2 decreases in our summer as vegetation grows and increases in winter. Just as we take deeper breath when we run, our planet today is also “panting”, inhaling more CO2 in summer. Could this be related to our massive use of fertilizers and higher yield crop? Without fertilizers two out of five people will suffer from hunger, but what will they do to our world? Time to play detective!

Why did you choose this career path? When did you first realize this career was meant for you?

I became interested in climate science while I was studying geography in my sophomore year. There were erratic climate events (drought in one year, and flooding next year) in my hometown since the Three Gorges Dam began impounding the Yangtze River. People were wondering why these natural hazards happened, and that was the first time I was intrigued and realized I could try to understand it with the science.

If you could hit the “Redo” button, what career would you choose instead?

Become an ecologist working in the Pacific coast redwood forest.

 Personal Life

Where did you grow up? Tell us about your family and hometown.

I grew up in Bishan, Chongqing, China. It’s a clean town just an hour from the metropolitan center of Chongqing. Over the years it has grown from a small town to a modern city with about 100,000 residents. My hometown folks are crazy about Mahjong, Landlord poker, eating and drinking. My parents are both teachers, and we sometimes play Landlord to decide who washes the dishes.

Do you enjoy watching sports? What is your favorite team to watch?

I like watching soccer. During a memorable visit to my Professor uncle when I was 12, we watched a heated derby between Chongqing and Sichuan (Chongqing just got independence from Sichuan for two years, and despite speaking similar dialect the fans hate each other). Back then the two teams were both very competitive and attack-minded in the first division, and with many goals scored, the match was quite a thriller.

I became a casual soccer fan after China’s first and only World Cup in 2002. I found the World Cup an exciting idea where countries fight peacefully with 11 soldiers on each side. The tactics, anxiety, drama, fanfare, and never-dying hope are sensational. I rooted for Brazil after the group stage and they went on to win the tournament.

I’m also a fan of Germany after their fantastic performance at the 2010 World Cup, and I started to follow Bayern Munich as well. I experienced the disappointment of three runner-ups last year (still remember the heart-wrenching moment in a Tennessee hotel, watching them lose to Chelsea on a penalty), the joy of winning all three titles this year, and the sweet revenge against Chelsea at the UEFA Super Cup a month earlier. I also started watching some of Arsenal’s games this year. I will be supporting Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands (Arjen Robben!) and the U.S. for the 2014 World Cup.

Domestically, I am a firm supporter of Georgia Bulldogs. Screaming, jumping, singing, and laughing in the stadium with over 92,000 fellow Dawgs is something one can never forget. Yes, I do think SEC is the best league and we put up a better fight with Alabama than Notre Dame.

What about playing sports? Which do you enjoy playing the most, as a child and more recently?

Ping Pong and badminton. I also played soccer with a special rule (ball should never pass the knee) when I was really little. Besides those, I enjoy playing tennis and swimming at a beginner’s level. I am really crappy at most sports, but that does not prevent me from enjoying playing them!

What kind of hobbies do you have? Crocheting, Fantasy Football, martial arts, the classic stamp collecting, etc. Why do you like these hobbies and when/how did you first begin to enjoy them?

Hiking is my favorite. The pleasure of overlooking the surroundings from the top after breaking a sweat is like none other.  I am also a huge fan of Jin Yong’s Kung Fu novels. He blends poetry, art, Go Chess, music and many other cultural elements into history-based fictional worlds. He depicts emotional struggles between loyalty to the King, responsibility to the family, doing the right thing, and follow one’s heart. He also builds interesting characters/geeks who are just obsessed with their plants/chess/calligraphy. I also like all sorts of outdoor non-competitive activities, reading, and playing board games.

What are you most passionate about, besides your research and career at the University of Maryland?

Reading, exploring and fantasizing over world history, culture, and geography. I would love to learn German, Spanish, Italian, and French when I have time.

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