February 12, 2013 Atmospheric Aerosols

Science Pub RVA #7

Aerosols In Our Atmosphere

In addition to nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases, our atmosphere contains a plethora of aerosols. These tiny particles are liquid or solid and suspended in the air. There are many types (soot, dust, sea salt, etc.) and they are found all over our planet. Aerosols reduce visibility on hazy days. Small particles when inhaled can exacerbate asthma and heart disease. They also govern cloud formation and play a poorly understood role in climate.

In addition to exploring some recent, compelling  data, Dr. Michelsen explained how scientists go about determining the composition of complex aerosols.   In plain language, she educated an audience of 40 about the powerful experimental technique of mass spectrometry. Additionally, she had a table-top activity for participants to puzzle out.

Rebecca R. H. Michelsen, PhD Associate Professor, Chemistry Randolph-Macon College
Rebecca R. H. Michelsen, PhD
Associate Professor, Chemistry
Randolph-Macon College

Dr. Michelsen grew up near Chicago, but moved to Los Angeles for a liberal arts education at Occidental College.  There, she had her first exposure to research working with David West and Eileen Spain.  After graduation, she went to Argentina, volunteered in a home for boys, learned Spanish and ate a lot of beef.  Chemistry called, so she headed to the University of Minnesota for graduate school.  Working in the lab of Jeffrey T. Roberts, she learned about ultra high vacuum systems and applications to atmospheric chemistry.  Next up  was NASA Ames Research Center, where she was immersed in the atmospheric science community for three fun years.  She arrived at Randolph-Macon College in 2005 and has mentored a number of students in her research lab and presents their work at national and international conferences.  She’s married and has two energetic boys.