ASU alum Royal Norman to be honored for impact, achievements

School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning selects Norman as Distinguished Alumnus

November 8, 2017

Growing up in Illinois, the Norman family would gather their chairs and sit with the garage door open, looking out over the neighborhood as storms would roll in. A young Royal, who had the habit of clipping the weather report out of the newspaper, received a cardboard meterology set as a gift from his aunt.

It can surprising how themes from childhood can grow, unwittingly, into lifelong pursuits. Royal Norman, chief meteorologist for KTVK in Phoenix, graduated from ASU in 1984.

“I’ve always liked weather. It’s always changing,” said Royal Norman, as he sits among several computers modeling the upcoming forecast to share for the evening broadcast. He’ll be on the news later that night, helping people prepare for their week. As chief meteorologist for Phoenix’s KTVK 3TV, Norman oversees weather for the station – a perfect job for the kid sitting with his family in the garage.

Norman started his career in radio. He worked the soundboards and reported on local news. His wife, Nancy, also worked in radio. It was while they were working in Battle Creek, Michigan, Nancy received a job offer in Phoenix that would ultimately change the course for Norman’s career, too.

Once in Arizona, Norman decided to pursue his lifelong interest in meteorology. Enrolling at Arizona State University, Norman was finally able to delve deeper into the science of meteorology that always intrigued him.

Norman graduated from ASU in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in geography with a focus of meteorology and climatology.

“One thing I never believed was that I could finish college — it seemed so daunting to me,” said Norman, who also attended Indiana University and Phoenix College prior to enrolling at ASU. “And then I did! So, I started thinking maybe I could do some other stuff.”

Graduating from ASU sparked a confidence in Norman. He realized that 3TV was the only station in Phoenix who only employed “weathermen,” and not a single meteorologist. He stepped out on a limb and wrote a letter to the station. “In my letter I told them I had been doing radio for years and that I was a meteorologist, and that I don’t think I would suck at it,” laughed Norman.

The letter opened the door to an audition. Norman watched the station’s top weatherman for a week straight and practiced his own forecasts in the mirror in preparation. After a few months waiting following his audition, Norman finally learned he got the job, where he started with weekend forecasts — three shows at $50 per show.

That letter has led Norman on the path to a 35-year career as a television meteorologist. It has also presented incredible opportunities like going to Hawaii to cover Kilauea.

“One day, I finished up the noon broadcast and my assistant news director asked if I wanted to go to Hawaii. I agreed,” Norman said with a laugh. “He said ‘Okay, pack your bag.’ It was amazing. I was standing just a few feet from flowing lava.”

He didn’t always have to fly across the Pacific Ocean to find excitement. In 1986, Norman witnessed a funnel cloud form over the town of Apache Junction, southeast of Phoenix, with a bird’s eye view from a helicopter. “It only lasted about five minutes, but it was really cool.” The tornado only caused minimal damage but left a lasting impression.

His career has also provided the opportunity to reconnect with his school roots. Randy Cerveny, professor of meteorology and climatology with the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has teamed up with Norman and 3TV to provide his expertise over the years. One such instance was in 1993 when torrential rains sent floodwaters down the then dry riverbed of the Salt River. At the time, the Mill Avenue Bridge was under construction. As the flood waters raged, Norman and Cerveny provided a live coverage and commentary of the flooding as the bridge collapsed into the waters below.

Norman’s career will once again intersect with his education as the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning welcomes him back as a Distinguished Alumnus.

A brand new honor from the school, a distinguished alumnus aims to recognize alumni from the school who have gone on to make great strides and achievements in their careers. Coinciding with the distinction is the opportunity for the alumnus to share their story at the Distinguished Alumnus Lecture.

“Our alumni are making an impact in this world,” said Trisalyn Nelson, director of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “Mr. Norman is no different. Every day, he brings his knowledge of weather and cheerful demeanor into homes across Arizona. His award-winning work on monsoons has helped immensely in making Arizonans more informed and safer during the annual monsoon season.”

The inaugural lecture, featuring Royal Norman, will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at ASU’s Memorial Union. Norman will share stories of his unconventional career path, as well as some of his favorite stories from his time at ASU and throughout his career.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information and to reserve your seat, visit:

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


Fueling the future: ASU scientists promote new, efficient method of algal hydrogen production

November 8, 2017

Changing the way the nation generates and consumes energy is at the heart of a new NSF grant awarded to Arizona State University and Kevin Redding, professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and director of the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis (CB&P).

The goal of Redding and his research group is to obtain industrial scale algal hydrogen production, a goal that requires an improvement over current technology by at least five-fold. ASU scientists promote new and efficient method of algal hydrogen production From left to right: Alec Smith (Barrett Fellow), Kevin Redding and doctoral student Andrey Kanygin Download Full Image

“I do not view hydrogen so much as a fuel, but as an essential commodity that we consume at a rate of over 20 million metric tons per year — and which we now make by steam reformation of fossil fuels, a process that is energy intensive and produces carbon dioxide,” Redding explained. “If we could replace even a part of that with algal biohydrogen that is made via light and water, it would have a substantial impact. However, the state of the biohydrogen field is not even close to where it needs to be in order to be commercially viable.”

“We thought that some radically different approaches needed to be taken — thus, our crazy idea of hooking up the hydrogenase enzyme directly to Photosystem I in order to divert a large fraction of the electrons from water splitting (by Photosystem II)  to make molecular hydrogen."

It is common knowledge that plants and algae, as well as cyanobacteria, use photosynthesis to produce oxygen and “fuels,” the latter being oxidizable substances like carbohydrates and hydrogen. There are two pigment-protein complexes that orchestrate the primary reactions of light in oxygenic photosynthesis: Photosystem I (PSI) and Photosystem II (PSII).

Algae (in this case the single-celled green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, or ‘Chlamy’ for short) possess an enzyme called hydrogenase that uses electrons it gets from the protein ferredoxin, which is used to ferry electrons from PSI to various destinations. The algal hydrogenase is rapidly and irreversibly inactivated by oxygen that is constantly produced by PSII. It is hoped that linking the hydrogenase directly to PSI will mitigate the problems, including the fact that hydrogenase competes poorly for electrons and that it is inactivated by oxygen.

“Using the kinked PSI-hydrogenase concept, Andrey Kanyginthe doctoral student working on the project has managed to produce an engineered alga that gives the best sustained hydrogen production of any alga ever. Working with Alec Smith, a Barrett Fellow of the CB&P, they have produced a new strain that has the highest initial rate ever measured, but later it drops. With this grant, we can hopefully produce an organism with the best of both: high rates that are sustained for long times.”

In a future commercial system, one will want to be able to grow the cells normally at first, and then switch them to a mode in which most of the electrons are diverted to make hydrogen — essentially crossing over from a cheap replicating system to a “biofactory” in which sunlight drives production of hydrogen using water. The proposed systems provide an obvious way to do that by turning on the genes encoding the linked PSI-hydrogenase proteins. Consequently, electrons will be diverted away from carbon dioxide fixation to hydrogen production.

Partnering with Israel

The NSF grant is part of the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF). In this arrangement, a U.S. scientist and Israeli scientist join forces to form a joint project. The U.S. partner submits a grant on the joint project to the NSF, and the Israeli partner submits the same grant to the ISF (Israel Science Foundation). Both agencies must agree to fund the project in order to obtain the BSF funding. Prof. Iftach Yacoby of Tel Aviv University. Redding's partner on the BSF project, is a young scientist who first started at TAU about 5 years ago and has focused on different ways to increase algal biohydrogen production.

"Iftach is taking very different approaches to this problem, which I see nobody else out there doing. Some of his work is a little controversial, but I think his basic conclusions are sound. We have been talking to each other on and off for a few years, but recently we came to realize that our approaches and skills are very complementary. It is a natural partnership. We are already working on our first two joint manuscripts!"

Harnessing talent from local schools

Redding is also partnering with ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability to develop a module within their Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers Academy. They are working with Molly Cashion and Robert McGehee, the Academy Program Coordinators.

The team will develop a module on screening algae with an agar overlay method. They will train local middle and high school teachers how to do this in the Academy. They will need only a microwave oven and water bath to perform the assay, and their students will build their illuminators out of a cardboard box using LED strips and AA batteries. Undergraduate student volunteers will bring other materials to classrooms and assist the teachers as needed. Algae are grown on plates, covered with agar mixed with Rhodobacter, and allowed to develop overnight.

The students can image them the next day with their own phone cameras using a small green interference filter provided by the grant. They can then draw their own conclusions about the best hydrogen-producing strains. This plan draws upon concepts from the next-generation science teaching concepts, in which learning is driven by the students’ own curiosity. They will be given only a cursory explanation at first but, as the experiment progresses, the scientists will answer their questions about how things work. The students will be encouraged to experiment with different conditions so as to discover the best algal strains and how to coax them to make more hydrogen. In this way, they become partners in discovery.

The team included Kevin E. Redding, Andrey Kanygin and Alec Smith of ASU and Iftach Yacoby of Tel Aviv University. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation, grant number CBET-1706960.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences