A peek into some of the most interesting faculty and staff offices on campus

Mathew Barlow surrounded by plants in his office

By Ed Brennen

WHO: Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Prof. Mathew Barlow, who researches climate change and variability. He was recently awarded a three-year, $478,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the cause of heat waves and droughts in the Northeast region of the U.S. 

WHERE: Olney Hall, Room 301a (but at home for the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic) 

WHAT MAKES IT COOL: Studies show that having a plant in your workspace can reduce stress, boost creativity and increase productivity. If that’s true, then Barlow must be one of the most relaxed and productive faculty members on campus. His third-floor office looks more like an indoor greenhouse, with an impressive collection of almost a dozen houseplants and fruit trees basking in the purple glow of LED grow lights. Most of them are “strays and rescues,” he says, including a fern from his undergraduate days three decades ago at Swarthmore College. “I like to mention the plant that I’ve kept alive that long, not the very many that have died in the interim,” he says with a bearded grin. Barlow’s botanic garden also includes a mango tree that he and his family started from seed, and a Meyer lemon tree that he bought at the supermarket “because it was on sale and looked sad.” When the pandemic sent everyone home last March, Barlow’s plants came with him. “I kept them outdoors in the summer and in our dank, unfinished basement for the winter,” he says. “The mango has been pretty skeptical of the process, but my lemon has maintained an air of positivity throughout everything and has several lemons on it.” 

EXTRA CREDIT: Barlow also has a chunk of coal on his office desk from his childhood farm in Virginia. “We heated with coal when I was a kid, and we used to misbehave right before Christmas to get some extra coal in our stocking so we could be warm,” he says. Across from his desk is a wing chair situated under a suspended cumulus cloud that, with the flip of a switch, appears to have a lightning bolt brewing inside. “For my next office toy when I get back on campus, I’m working on 3D printing my own small floating globes with climate maps on them,” he says