New UCI institute will uncover how water droplets influence air pollution & global warming

10/07/04

Environmental Molecular Science Institute one of only seven currently funded by the National Science Foundation

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 7, 2004 --UC Irvine has been awarded a total of $7.5 million over five years from the National Science Foundation to establish an Environmental Molecular Science Institute one of only seven currently funded EMSIs dedicated to understanding at the molecular level how human activity and nature contribute to global environmental problems.

At UCI, the EMSI will focus on understanding how chemical reactions occur at the boundary between air and liquid droplets in the atmosphere (such as fog, humidity and rain, as well as dew on buildings and other surfaces), affecting atmospheric pollution and climate change.

"Our mission is to uncover how molecules in the environment are interacting and potentially influencing everything from the amount of air pollution in Los Angeles to climate change," said Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, principal investigator of the award, director of the new institute and professor of chemistry. "Our research area is particularly exciting as only recently have scientists understood that chemical reactions occurring at the boundary between air and liquid water in the atmosphere may influence air quality in a number of previously unrecognized ways."

Scientists at the institute will use theory, experiments and computer modeling of air quality to gain new understanding into how liquid droplets play roles in the formation of smog and acid rain, and in global climate change. These reactions occur across a range of scales in both time and space, in the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere, and their studies will capture this range.

Undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting community college faculty will work with UCI faculty and their international and national laboratory collaborators to carry out the research. The institute also will work with the UCI Faculty Outreach Collaborations Uniting Scientists, Students and Schools (FOCUS) educational project, which aims to improve mathematics and science achievement in high-need California school districts. It will offer a summer science environmental chemistry program for science teachers of grades 8-12. An annual daylong symposium geared for the general public also is planned for the future.

"The institute provides a spectrum of new training opportunities from undergraduate to postdoctoral levels, and allows for new partnerships with K-12, the community colleges and the public," said Ronald Stern, dean of the School of Physical Sciences. "It will put UCI at the forefront of research in a newly emerging area of chemistry."

Joining Finlayson-Pitts are UCI researchers R. Benny Gerber, John C. Hemminger, Sergey Nizkorodov and Douglas J. Tobias in the Department of Chemistry, and Donald Dabdub in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. They have teamed with four international researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and nine researchers from the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The NSF began funding the institute last month. Other universities that have active EMSI awards are Princeton, Stanford, Notre Dame, Stony Brook, Penn State and Ohio State.

The EMSI awards are given to interdisciplinary teams of university, industrial and/or national laboratory scientists working on problems aimed at increasing fundamental understanding at the molecular level of natural processes as well as those resulting from human activities in the environment. The emphases in these awards are on collaborative research among teams with complementary research interests and the creation of broad educational experiences for students.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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