My interests

My research interests have focused on the chemistry of reactive trace gases in the atmosphere, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and halogen radicals, and their impacts on tropospheric ozone. A large portion of my research to date has focused on the Arctic and air-snow interactions. More recently, my research has included studying emissions from oil and natural gas production and impacts on air quality. When I am not working I am usually rock climbing, hiking, snowboarding, backpacking or otherwise enjoying the outdoors.

How I became a scientist

My path to my current position as a research scientist in atmospheric chemistry has not been a straightforward one. My family is artistically-inclined, and while I enjoy art as well, I am the only one in my family who has pursued a scientific field. When I was younger I was mostly interested in history or archaeology. I also loved the outdoors, so as a teenager I toyed with the idea of becoming a forest ranger in the National Parks. In high school, in the International Baccalaureate program, we had to choose whether to continue on to advanced biology or chemistry courses. I chose biology, but because of my aptitude in freshman chemistry, I was called into a meeting by the two female chemistry teachers and persuaded to change my courses to chemistry. When I went to college, I chose Forensic Science because I enjoyed puzzles and brainteasers and thought it would be an interesting and challenging way to apply science to solving puzzles. My plan at that point was to work at the FBI Labs in Quantico. It was at UCF that one of my college professors encouraged me to pursue my PhD in analytical chemistry because it would allow me to go into any field of applied science. At Purdue, I met a very animated and passionate professor in the Analytical Chemistry Department, Paul Shepson, whose research centered on atmospheric chemistry. He said “See the world! Do science!” and offered an opportunity to go to Arctic Alaska. Entering this field was the best decision I could have made and it has been an exciting adventure ever since.

How my work benefits society

My research on VOC levels in the oil and gas fields in Utah and Colorado has been important in shining a light on the current air quality issues facing residents living near these drilling operations. Fracking has become a hot button issue in the Front Range, and one of my recent publications provided evidence for enhanced levels of VOCs in residential neighborhoods resulting from this activity. This work generated a lot of media interest in both local and national news outlets. Additionally, our work in the wintertime in the Utah gas fields revealed that well emissions were leading to exceptionally high levels of ozone pollution exacerbated by the pooling of emissions near the cold, snow-covered surface.

Although many people do not see the connections between our work in the oil and gas fields and in the Arctic, it is becoming clear that the Arctic is the “next frontier” in industrialization in both oil exploration and shipping. This will undoubtedly bring higher levels of emissions and pollution to the Arctic region, so there is much that we can learn about the future of the Arctic both by studying the current baseline chemistry there and by understanding how oil and gas emissions impact winter air quality.