Grad Story #36
Grad Story #36
Atmospheric Sciences, PhD
Where is your hometown?
I was born in New York City and raised back and forth between the Bronx and northern Virginia. I consider my hometown the two hundred and forty mile I-95 corridor between the Bronx and Virginia because I have family along that whole stretch. So home, for me, is basically any city between the District of Columbia and the Bronx.
Why did you choose Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Dakota?
I have been interested in the atmosphere since I was a little kid. My undergraduate degree was in Geochemistry, where I studied the chemistry of rocks and minerals. One of my professors was the state climatologist at that time, and that’s when climate change was really starting to generate some steam. After graduation, I taught high school earth science and climate change was one of the big topics that we studied. I figured I would like to get into the whole climate change debate to offer my two cents, do some research, and someday be a college professor. Atmospheric Sciences seemed like a logical progression from Geochemistry and the professors here at UND took a chance on me.
Congratulations in receiving the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute Grant, can you share a little bit about that?
It started in 2010 with a visiting professor, Wei Gong, who gave a seminar on using LIDAR (light and radar) on clouds, aerosols, and vegetation. Dr. Gong heads one of the many State Key Laboratories in China and is the head of the lab at Wuhan University. He liked the research I did on the 2006 Intercontinental Chemical Transport Experiment-Phase B (INTEX-B) that involved Asian aerosol transport to North America. He mentioned that if I ever got a chance to come to China, he would gladly host me so I could study aerosols in Wuhan. It turns out that Wuhan is dubbed as one of the seven ovens of China. The temperature in the summer is at or around 100 degrees from June to August with insane humidity.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) East Asian and Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) is a program that sends roughly two hundred graduate students on a two month research excursion to seven participating host regions in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2011, when the NSF put out a call for grant proposals, I applied and was accepted. I was in a group of sixty students that went to China. It was nothing short of adventurous from the first day until the very last day. While I was there I continued my research with INTEX-B data and assisted Dr. Gong's students in testing rice shoots for environmental stress by using LIDAR. His group works on applications of LIDAR and creating mathematical algorithms to study both aerosol optical properties and vegetation health that can be applied to ground-based and space-based instruments (like satellites).
In addition to working with his whole group, I collaborated with one of the doctoral students on an aerosol LIDAR detection algorithm that can give precise estimates of the boundaries (top and bottom) of aerosol and cloud layers. The name of the paper is "Linear segmentation algorithm for detecting layer boundary with LIDAR". I was also able to publish another paper, “Classification and investigation of Asian aerosol absorptive properties”, based the results from the INTEX-B data.
You also received the best student poster presentation award from the Organization Committee of the Sixth Symposium on Aerosol-Cloud-Climate Interactions at the 94th American Meteorological Society annual meeting. Can you talk a little bit about that?
My topic presentation was titled "Aerosol Physical and Chemical Properties and Their Relationship with CCN at the AMF-Azores Site". In this poster, I merged my previous NASA funded aerosol study and a recent Department of Energy (DOE) field campaign using the DOE’s mobile facility in The Azores to measure aerosols and marine cloud properties. In addition to funding from NASA, my advisor secured funds from the DOE which made this current study possible.
I had a very short amount of time to complete the research. My advisors gave me the task during the summer semester and I had to present results in late November. The results were very interesting in that continental aerosols like mineral dust, pollution, and volcanic ash were found to have diverse influences on marine cloud formation processes and it was decided that we could write a paper off of these results. I initially presented our findings at a Department of Energy Conference and then decided to present everything at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting. Several DOE people stopped by the poster and gave constructive criticism but also added that they liked the way that the research was done. The awards committee saw the poster, and I guess they liked it too. I made changes to my paper after the meeting based on their suggestions. The paper is now fully accepted for publication in the next issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Can you discuss the importance of mentorship and faculty advisors?
With having a graduate advisor, it’s a more personable relationship than with your undergraduate advisor. At the graduate level, advisors are really beneficial because they can see potential in their students. My advisors have kept me focused, leaned on me a lot, and have been very result-driven, which I am very thankful for. As a result of the goals and challenges they have set I have gone to Asia twice, presented at numerous conferences, and have written five science journal papers. My graduate career is one of the best experiences that I have ever had.
What is your best advice for a graduate student who is looking to Atmospheric Sciences?
Find out where you lie in the spectrum between the two schools of thought in Atmospheric Sciences: the modeling or observation communities. You can have a preference but definitely acknowledge that both sides are needed.
Never be afraid to come up with some zany idea that you know you can support using different types of research methods and data platforms. You may stumble across something that no one has ever thought of and you could be writing papers off of that idea. You are also going to get knocked around a lot. The more darts that people throw at you the more you know that you’re onto something great.