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Roger J. Cheng

Roger J. Cheng - Personal Retirement Story

In 1957, I borrowed money for a one-way plane ticket from Taiwan to the United States looking to further my education and opportunities. To me, it was the chance of a lifetime. I was born in 1929 among millions of peasants in the poor farm country of Kaifeng, China. As a boy, I loved to take electronic devices apart and then reassemble them. I also loved photography. Both of these interests would become pivotal talents in my adult career. During the Communist Revolution in 1948, I left for Taiwan to expand my educational horizons.

I was very fortunate and honored to be mentored by TWO GIANTS in the field of Atmospheric Science during my 50-year professional career in the United States.

First, at Florida State University (1960-1965), where I became a technical assistant working for Dr. Seymour Hess, head of meteorology and an expert on the atmosphere of Mars. I helped design very sensitive equipment (hygrometers) to measure "water vapor" in the Martian atmosphere in an experiment to confirm that the white caps on Mars were ice (water) and not frozen carbon dioxide. This was a part of a NASA project for future Martian exploration. Fast-forward to 2015, and NASA confirmed the existence of water on Mars thanks, in small part to my research some 50 years ago.                                                  

In 1966, I came to New York as a research assistant for $1.25 per hour, working for 10 hours a week at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC) at UAlbany. I served as the research assistant for Dr. Vincent J. Schaefer, the Center’s founder in 1960 and director from 1965 until his retirement in 1976. One year after I joined the ASRC, Dr. Schaefer gave me the opportunity to create and manage the Laboratory for Atmospheric Particulate Analysis where, for over 30 years, I used the light microscope and the scanning electron microscope to study the unseen secrets of the weather, the ocean, and the environment.                                   
Photo of Roger J. Cheng & Vincent Schaefer‌Dr. Vincent Schaefer (Mentor, Teacher & Friend) & Roger Cheng                                        
A major project funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) done in cooperation with ASRC Director Dr. Volker Mohnen, the Chief Scientist of the N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and a professor at RPI allowed me to use the new modern equipment from my lab in a detailed investigation of the emissions from oil-and coal-burning power plants, acid rain formation and their impact on our environment.

I was the primary author for four major reports published as a result of the study. All were featured as cover articles in: Journal of Air Pollution Control (1976, 1984), Analytical Chemistry  (1987), EPA Report (1979) and the Chinese book Air Pollution and Control (1985).

Also based on this study, I was co-author of two major publications on Power Plant Emissions and Climate Change authored by Dr. Petr Chylek, He has published over 100 scientific papers and his work has been cited more than 4,000 times. Chylek is best known for his work in remote sensing, aerosols and climate change. 
Photo montage of some reports produced by Roger J. Cheng
‌CHINA CONNECTION                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
At the suggestion of Dr. Schaefer, I coordinated a science exchange program for UAlbany between the ASRC and Chinese atmospheric and environmental research institutions. This program was in place for 35 years (1980-2005), and many of the connections I established still exist today.

I was invited as the one of Chinese-Americans in a 35-member American delegation attending the first U.S./China Conference on Energy Resources and Environment in Beijing in1982. I was also the only Chinese-American in a 14-member American delegation participating at the U.S./China Air Pollution Technology Workshop in Nanjing and Beijing in 1985.
Photos and graphics from various Roger J. Cheng scientific events in China and Taiwan.

At the request of the Director of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), I arranged and led a delegation to the Workshop on Indoor Air Pollution and Environmental Health at National Taiwan University in 1989 with three top US scientists from Harvard (Dr. John Spengler, who graduated from the ASRC), MIT and the U.S. EPA.

Recognition and Honors

Dr. Walter C. McCrone, chairman of the International Conference on Microscopy (INTER/MICRO), presented me with two first-place awards for my presentations at INTER/MICRO in 1970 and 1972. This meant a great deal to me because Dr. McCrone was my teacher and mentor. As director of the McCrone Research Institute, he trained me how to use a microscope and he opened my eyes to the “Micro-World in the Atmosphere.”

The State University of New York recognized me in 1978 with the first SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service to be received by a member of the UAlbany Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC).

I was also awarded “The Outstanding Alumnus Award of the Year 2010” from National Taiwan Normal University, from which I graduated in 1954. 

While working in the lab at the UAlbany ASRC, I made observations utilizing photomicrographs in three major research fields: environmental science, through the study of acid rain; cloud physics, based on the study of frozen water drops; and marine aerosols, which I discovered were hollow and not solid as formerly believed. Each of my discoveries has been confirmed by recognized authorities in the field – often years later – leading some of my colleagues to call me a visionary ahead of many of my peers. I found this most humbling.

My discoveries have been recognized both nationally and internationally, not only for the science revealed by my photographs obtained by the light microscope and the scanning electron microscope, but also for their elegance and beauty. For years these photographs have been in wide demand by editors of both popular and scientific magazines. One graced the cover of Science magazine. My photomicrographs have also appeared on the cover of more than 30 international science journals and magazines and have been cited in National Geographic, Scientific American, and Smithsonian.

Community Service and Life After Retirement

Although I retired from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center in 2000 after 34 years, it did not decrease my enthusiasm for science. Quite the contrary.

I still visit my contemporaries in China whom I had met as part of the scientific exchange program between the ASRC and the Chinese scientific community. I continue to call Guilderland, NY my home.

Following Dr. Schaefer’s life-long goal, I have dedicated myself to community service and science education for talented, young students.

My first taste of American-style community service and science education was through the Natural Sciences Institute summer program, which gave hundreds of high school students from all over the United States the opportunity to work with scientists and on their own to do field research and experimentation. Dr. Schaefer developed the Institute, which he ran under the auspices of the ASRC between 1962 and 1968. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Schaefer’s teenage budding scientists when he was working in the field.

That experience inspired me many years later to put together a major, two-month long exhibition of my photomicrographs at the Schenectady Museum and Planetarium/New York Science Center in 2007. Called “The Story of Three Water Drops,” the exhibit showed how the study of a single drop of water could challenge existing knowledge, and illustrated the very essence of the Museum’s mission: to inspire a sense of wonder about extraordinary scientific and technological developments – past, present and future. As part of the program, I had the opportunity to discuss my work with attendees while they explored the exhibit and enjoyed special children’s activities. My objective was to open people’s minds and hopefully inspire the next generation of scientists.   
Roger J. Cheng, The Story of Three Water Drops, exhibit, Schenectady Museum and Planetarium.
During my retirement, I have continued to embrace technology in a big way. I created a website – – containing all of my research papers, magazine covers, and many hundreds of my photographs. It is a science education project for the science teacher, student and researcher who wants to know more about the atmosphere and who cares about the preservation of our environment.   

I produced a full-scale profile on LinkedIn– which contains links to eight presentations I posted in 2014 and 2015.

I put my “50 Years Anniversary - Atmospheric Research & Science Education” and ten other presentations on SlideShare at I was notified on October 5, 2013 that The White House had started following me on SlideShare. What an honor!

I’m even on Google+ ( and Twitter @ROGERJCHENG).

Retirement is better than I had imagined. It has allowed me to do many things I wanted but didn’t have the time for before. If you are a recent SUNY retiree, here’s a little advice: Just do everything you always wanted to do!

Retirees Service Corps