John Carlson may be the only Fidelity employee with an anemometer on his home balcony. This device for measuring wind speed is not only a common weather station instrument, but also a fitting reflection of Carlson’s interests, which range from science to economics.
Carlson grew up outside Detroit, the oldest of six kids. His two boyhood fascinations – the weather and the stock market – led him to study math and atmospheric science at the undergraduate and graduate level. When it came time to apply to Ph.D. programs, Carlson’s first choice was MIT’s top-ranked meteorology program, now the Program for Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate (PAOC) within the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “There really wasn’t a second choice, and once I was accepted, there was no looking back,” he says.
Carlson spent seven years at MIT and relished his time both inside and outside the classroom. He especially enjoyed working with Professors Ed Lorenz, Fred Sanders, and Peter Stone and wrote a paper with Stone on the structure of the Earth’s atmosphere and its implications for climate modeling. His extracurricular activities included sailing with Sanders, skiing and hiking with Lorenz, and playing intramural sports with fellow graduate students. “We were really close,” says Carlson. “We were like a family.”
Lorenz, who earned his doctorate at MIT and served on the faculty for six decades, was Carlson’s biggest influence. While Lorenz is best known as a founder of chaos theory, he touched the lives of hundreds of meteorology students. Like Carlson, these young scholars were affected not only by Lorenz’ extraordinary intelligence, but also by his quiet, understated charm and personal integrity.
In the mid-1980’s, Carlson went to New York to finish his thesis, but ultimately decided to work on Wall Street as one of the first so-called “rocket scientists.” “My decision was influenced by a number of factors – my interest in the financial markets, the political climate of the 1980s, and the waning job market for meteorologists,” he explains. Today, John is a professional investor who has enjoyed a successful 30-year career specializing in global and emerging markets. He is currently a senior vice president and portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments.
While finance and meteorology may seem far apart, Carlson believes that his MIT education has helped him professionally.
“More than anything, my training in science allows me to approach the financial markets with a high level of curiosity and intellectual honesty, traits that were ingrained at MIT,” says Carlson.
He also credits Stone and Professor Hurd “Doc” Willett with helping him bridge the gap. Stone, for instance, shared his interest in investing: “Peter absolutely called the bottom of the US equity market in 1982,” says Carlson. He and Willett, well known for his work on the relationship between climate and sunspots, developed commodity forecasts for Wall Street, which they sold for a 50/50 split.
Carlson became reacquainted with EAPS and the School of Science a few years ago and was immediately drawn to the work of the Lorenz Center, a new climate think tank in the School of Science devoted to fundamental inquiry. The Lorenz Center is led by Kerry Emanuel, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Meteorology, and Daniel Rothman, Professor of Geophysics. It is named after Ed Lorenz, who was an early contributor to theoretical climate science.
Earlier this year, Carlson funded the Lorenz Center’s annual outreach lecture, which communicates exciting new results in climate science to the general public. Carlson was motivated by the opportunity to support high-risk, curiosity-driven science, especially with the current uncertainty around federal funding. Most importantly, he wanted to honor a beloved professor who inspired a generation of meteorologists.
“My support of the Lorenz Center is really all about Ed Lorenz, the way he conducted himself in every aspect of his life and the influence he had on me as a graduate student,” says Carlson.