FAIRBANKS (AP) -- There's a new director at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the search team didn't have to go far to find him.
Roger Smith, interim director of the Institute since last July, was named to take over Thursday after the school received approval from the National Academy of Sciences.
That came after a San Francisco-based personnel firm contacted about 100 people.
Smith replaces Syun Akasofu, and he won out over three other internationally regarded scientists for the job, which oversees the largest research institution on the Fairbanks campus and has an annual budget of about $25 million.
The other semifinalists were Peter Mouginis-Mark, a geophysicist from the University of Hawaii; Ted Llewellyn, a space physicist from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and Jost Heintzenberg, a meteorologist from the University of Dresden in Germany.
Smith didn't start his tenure at the Institute with an eye on the director's chair, but he nonetheless moved in that direction over the years. He became a full professor of physics in 1989 and served as its associate director from 1996 to 1999.
''I didn't come here expecting to be the director,'' Smith said. ''There comes a time in your career when you find different chances are open to you.''
The 58-year-old Smith is a specialist in upper-atmosphere research.
He has made 11 visits to the South Pole and another 21 to the Svalbard Islands, off the northern coast of Norway, where he set up permanent stations to study upper-atmosphere winds.
One of Smith's first tasks as director will be to get the Institute involved with a NASA satellite program known as ''Earth Science Enterprise.''
''This is providing, through satellite observations, measurements of the earth's crust and the plant life on the earth's crust,'' Smith said. ''We're interested in following up on that opportunity.''
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