Alumni Spotlight: Richard Middleton-Class of 2006


Photo Courtesy of Richard Middleton


Dr. Richard Middleton graduated from UC Santa Barbara in January 2006 with a Ph.D and has been working as a Deputy Group Leader (Computational Earth Science; EES-16) and Senior Scientist in the Earth and Environmental Sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico since 2016.

Prior to his current position, Middleton was postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 2006 to 2007. He took a position at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2007 to 2009 as a Senior Geospatial Infrastructure Modeler before coming back to Los Alamos as a Research Scientist and ultimately making his way to where he is today.

Richard Middleton’s work focuses on two major research areas: (1) energy & infrastructure modeling including the energy-water nexus, CO2 capture and storage (CCS), unconventional fossil fuels (such as shale gas and CO2-enhanced fracturing & hydrocarbon recovery), geothermal exploration, wind energy optimization, and bioenergy planning and landscape design; and (2) climate impacts on natural & engineered systems, including climate extremes, hydrology, and ecosystem dynamics.

Photo Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Middleton is the PI for LANL’s Critical Watersheds $3M LDRD project that examined the role of disturbances—including gradual climate change, extreme events, and climate-driven disruptive events such as wildfires—on natural ecosystems, hydrology, and water supply for the energy-water nexus. The project examines energy-water systems and mechanistic model development across multiple spatial and temporal scales, ranging from minutes to centuries and meters to thousands of kilometers. Middleton’s energy & infrastructure modeling has resulted in multiple high-level publications in a broad range of applications.

He is the lead developer of SimCCS, a research- and industry-leading decision optimization framework for understanding how, where, and when CCS infrastructure could and should be deployed; SimCCS is an open-source, HPC-based optimization tool that is applicable to a range of resources and infrastructure including pipelines, transportation, and communication networks.

Richard Middleton (left) and his wife Erin Middleton (right). Photo Courtesy of Richard Middleton

His advisor during his Ph.D program was Rick Church. Middleton “took and TA’d every course for him that [he] could.” Middleton explained that the three most profitable class subjects he learned from Church were transportation and logistics, location theory and modeling and applied Operations Research.

“I had pretty much zero background in Operations Research (OR) when I started working with Rick (Spring 2002). And yet my OR model that I first developed at Los Alamos in 2006 has been by far my most productive research area,” said Middleton.

Fun fact: Richard’s wife, Erin Middleton (pictured right), graduated from the Geography Department as well with a Ph.D. just 18 months after he did.

“UCSB-Geography does an excellent job of preparing undergraduate and graduate students for the outside world. Technical skills are critical—including mathematics, computational and coding skills— and UCSB students excel in that arena. But the “worldliness” of UCSB geography students will never cease to impress people.”

If you’d like to learn more about Richard Middleton, check out his personal website here.


Photo Courtesy of Richard Middleton



Advice from Alum:

“Employers like Los Alamos are looking for people with a strong theoretical and computational background. The subject area sometimes does not matter too much. For example, I can claim to be a leading researcher for “CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS)” and “Climate impacts on ecosystems and hydrology, including the energy-water nexus” and I had zero background in either of those areas coming in to Los Alamos. But, my computational and theoretical skills have allowed me to evolve into those new areas.”

“Never forget GIScience; it’s still a highly regarded skillset that alone will find you employment.”



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