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August 1999

SOARing beyond Boulder: Protégés move into off-site research

Video brings SOARS to classrooms nationwide

The SOARS program has entered a new phase in this, its fourth summer of training undergraduate and graduate students. Several of the 31 protégés participating in the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science program are carrying out their summer's work beyond the confines of Boulder. This shift is occurring thanks to new institutional partners that include the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), NASA, NOAA, and the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM). See the July 1999 Staff Notes Monthly for an overview of SOARS.

Stephanie Rivale. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Stephanie Rivale and Monica Rivera have been in Mexico City working on a prelude to next year's Megacity Impact on Regional and Global Environment (MIRAGE) field project. Their challenges have been more than scientific. For instance, UNAM, their campus home, has been embroiled in a student strike over a new tuition plan at the formerly free university. "So far the strike has just been a little bit of a hassle," reports Stephanie. "We have to show ID to get in, and there aren't any students on campus."

Stephanie is a doctoral student in chemical engineering at the University of Colorado. She's launching into her thesis-to-be by using the tropospheric ultraviolet model built by Sasha Madronich (ACD) to analyze photolysis rates for nitrogen dioxide and ozone and compare them to surface measurements. She is also analyzing pollution levels as measured by local monitoring stations, an extension of research she's done since 1997 through her participation in SOARS in Boulder and at her undergraduate school, the University of Rochester.

"It's been great to be able to observe first hand the pollution that I've been studying for the last three summers," she says. "It has also made me aware of the frustrations international research can bring"--extra paperwork, for example.

Monica, an undergraduate in chemical engineering (also at Rochester), is in her second SOARS summer. She's measuring the size distribution of airborne particles in Mexico City as they evolve over time. She and a UNAM student are monitoring an in-town location as well as a mountaintop laboratory where much of the field work related to MIRAGE has been taking place. The lab is at an ecological park a few kilometers southwest of Mexico City and about 1,500 feet (450 meters) above the city.

For both Stephanie and Monica, this is their first time working in Mexico. They're often reminded that they are Americans at heart. On the way home from the market one evening, the two were caught in the rain without umbrellas--unthinkable for a local during the rainy season. According to Stephanie, "they had to know we were Americans, since we were the only ones in the entire city with shorts and T-shirts and Nikes. They were all wearing sweaters, and it is hot!"

Sharon Perez-Suarez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, is having a different kind of cross-cultural experience. After two summers at NCAR and two years of graduate work at the University of Florida in geological sciences, she's now at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She's found the big-city culture of the Eastern Seaboard takes some adaptation: she maintains that "there are no courteous drivers" in the D.C. area.

Sharon is working with Arlin Krueger, director of NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer project. "His experience and knowledge are outstanding," says Sharon, "and his recent studies about remote sensing of volcanic activities using TOMS are very important toward understanding global climate change."

Sharon is using TOMS data to examine sulfur dioxide clouds from the most violent volcanic eruptions, those that penetrate the stratosphere. She's comparing these data with pre-eruption measurements of temperature, pressure, and other aspects of the volcanoes in question. The goal is to strengthen a recent hypothesis that the amount of SO2 emitted during major eruptions is related to the oxygen fugacity (evanescence), temperature, pressure, and composition of the magma. "TOMS can only see volcanic clouds that make it to the stratosphere," notes Sharon, "so the number of volcanic eruptions being studied is limited." Among the biggies she's looking at are Shishaldin (in the Aleutians), 19 April 1999; Nyamuragira (Zaire), 18 October 1998; and Rabaul (Papua New Guinea), 19 September 1994.

Like the other off-site protégés, Sharon finds herself missing the camaraderie of the SOARS group in Boulder. "I know I had to sacrifice some things, like being in such a great place as Boulder, in order to gain other things, like having the experience of doing research at NASA. But it has been my dream since I was a little girl to be an astronaut and to work at NASA." At-a-distance support has come from SOARS colleague Preston Heard and writing mentor Janine Goldstein. And Sharon knows the Front Range may be in her future once more. After completing her master's next May, she hopes to return for a doctorate in geoenvironmental engineering at either the University of Colorado or the Colorado School of Mines.

Cherelle Blazer is navigating the world of DOE's Argonne National Laboratory, where she's been working since January. This gave the second-year SOARS participant a head start on some of the writing and presentation tasks that face each protégé during the summer writing workshop. (All off-site protégés participate in the workshop.)

Cherelle is putting a new instrument through its paces: a real-time monitor that detects alkenes at room temperatures. Alkenes are natural hydrocarbons that react with nitrogen oxide and the hydroxyl radical to form ozone and other pollutants in the lower troposphere. The monitor records photons that are emitted when alkenes from sampled air interact with ozone inside a reaction chamber. These photons serve as an index to the amount of alkenes present.

"If we can measure these alkenes," says Cherelle, "we can trace a precursor to very important photochemical reactions and perhaps cut down on air pollutants. At the very least, we can understand these processes better and come up with better clean-air policies." Cherelle's immediate goal is to get the alkene detector ready for field testing as part of the Northeastern Ozone and Aerosol Study, planned for the Philadelphia area. This fall she begins a doctoral program in physics at Hampton University.

The Argonne project is in tune with Cherelle's professional interests and has put her on an accelerated track. "I've been on my project twice as long" as some of her Boulder counterparts, she notes. She's already made presentations at Argonne on her work similar to the one she'll be presenting in Boulder this month.

"All in all, it has been a very rewarding experience," she says. "My only regret is that I don't get to spend more time with my friends in Boulder." •Bob Henson

A table of SOARS protégés and their research topics is at 1999 SOARS Program -- Research Topics.

Video brings SOARS to classrooms nationwide

The SOARS vision of diversity in atmospheric science will reach middle- and high-school students beginning next year through a videotape made in Boulder. High Hopes: Careers in the Atmospheric Sciences is being produced by UCAR and the Foundation for Advancement in Science and Education (FASE) through an NSF grant. Earlier this decade, FASE spotlighted NCAR scientists as part of the OPTIONS series hosted by Jaime Escalante. Like OPTIONS, High Hopes seeks to motivate young scientists and increase the field's diversity.

A FASE production crew visited NCAR at the end of July to tape interviews with SOARS protégés and mentors. The resulting video should be ready by January for use by teachers, career counselors, and university admissions departments. Supplemental materials are being developed with guidance from teachers in the LEARN: Atmospheric Science Explorers program (see article elsewhere in this issue.)

The goal, as stated in the proposal, is "to help every student understand that, if they work hard and seek effective support, they too can pursue the opportunities of the students who are featured in the video." UCAR member institutions will assist with science reviews of the video and supplemental materials and with testing and distribution. Lesson plans will span the range of sciences related to atmospheric research. For more on High Hopes, consult the FASE Web site . •BH

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall